Studious seniors hit the books

It’s never too late to get an education
By: Amanda Calzada, Gold Country News Service correspondent
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Putting the mind to the test of overcoming society standards of “age” and earn a degree poses no challenge to Nancy Cook and Barbara Widga, both William Jessup University psychology undergraduates of the School of Professional Studies.

“There’s never a ‘perfect’ time to go back to school as an older adult, but I determined now is the time, as I have unfinished goals in my life that need to be completed,” said Cook, who married at an early age and began having children in her 20s, something she has no regrets about.

Cook, 55, started school several times while raising her family, but put her education on hold because her family was her first priority. Throughout her life, she has always had a deep sense of knowing her gifts, she said, and knowing that education would help fully utilize them. She finalized her decision to attend William Jessup a few years ago, she said.

Widga, 68,said the decision to pursue her dream of counseling people who are experiencing grief or crisis  required much thought and prayer before enrolling in William Jessup to pursue her degree.

“ Sometimes life deals you tough times and your journey seems extra-stressful. And sometimes you have to step back and find humor in everyday occurrences,” said Widga, who experienced one major life change that led to another.

In 2000, Widga suddenly became a widow and said she realized that God had new life plans for her. She said she began to see that God sent people in need of comfort due to grief or loss her direction for support while she was “wandering around” taking a scripture-based class and a counseling class to try and determine where her life was headed. She said she listened with her heart, but felt she needed a head of knowledge to provide Christian counseling.

Initially, attending a university was not her first choice. Widga researched certificate programs and short-term seminar. She questioned her academic potential at her age and the idea of leaving a nearly 45-year-old successful career in management to tackle an entirely different field.

Rather than just studying to pass the classes, she believes she is reading and studying to learn, as she maintains a 4.0 grade point average since returning to school in February 2012. Cook also strives to learn the material and not just attain a good grade for the sake of her transcript – she said her education is for her and those she will serve. However, she is inspired to see herself attain the “A” she felt challenging to reach as a younger adult in school.

Cook, a full-time student, does not consider herself a senior citizen, but rather, an older adult. The greatest challenge in returning to school, she said, is maintaining discipline and focus.

I have never been content to just ‘stay’ where I am,” said Cook, who has recognized herself as a goal-setter during her whole life.

Prior to her undergraduate education, Cook administered her own licensed childcare center of 100 children for 10 years and worked as a real estate agent with her husband.

When the real estate market crashed, Cook held the position as a director of a program helping at-risk youth for 18 months before heading back to school.

As a Biblical theology minor, Widga, 68, appreciates the spirituality integrated in her courses, as does Cook, and the psychology program it offers her to complete her degree by currently attending class one night per week. Cook likes the intensity and convenience of the program.

Widga believes that her drive to finish tasks and push herself, coupled with the support system of her friends and children, explains her success. The most challenging part of student life is making time for her children and grandchildren and hobbies of crafting, scrapbooking and reading murder mysteries. For Cook, the financial aspect of college is the largest sacrifice. She appreciates the support of her husband, however, to help her earn her degree.

Both Cook and Widga are considering a master’s program after graduation. Widga is not certain of her specific post-graduation plans, but she does plan to start counseling and is considering writing. Cook hopes to establish a counseling ministry with her husband, a graduate of San Jose Bible College, which is now William Jessup University, after graduation. Cook is looking to specialize in marriage and family therapy.

"Nancy and Barb are perfect examples of students demonstrating it is never too late to learn,” said Sheila Haut, a public information officer at William Jessup. “At WJU, students of all ages receive a quality education that effectively prepares them to best achieve their personal goals throughout a lifetime.”

Widga said she has learned that the brain of someone who is considered a senior citizen is just as able to learn as that of someone in their early 20s. The age difference between her and most students in her classes, she added, has never been a problem.

“You are never too old to learn – and who knows where it will lead you,” she said.