Non-Traditional Student Services at Western Oregon University, managed by Student Leadership and Activities, benefit students who are older than average, have dependents, or have returned to school after an extended break. The services help to minimize the challenging aspects of being a non-traditional student, primarily through advising and social and educational events.
The Non-Traditional Student Lounge is located on the first floor of the Werner University Center. It includes kitchen facilities, lockers, and a space for students to study, relax, and socialize. Although the lounge is open to anyone, it is primarily an area for the non-traditional student community to gather.
Maintaining a community spirit can be difficult for non-traditional students because they come from a wide variety of backgrounds and generally have a number of off-campus commitments. “You do see some community with certain [non-traditional students] and then others not so much,” said John Wilkins, who is the Coordinator for Campus Life and Activities and oversees the non-traditional student services. “Maybe they have their own community with family, friends, or work…or maybe they identify with a different group [and] find more connection over there.” The same can be true of any body of students, but non-traditional students are more likely than others to have obligations outside the university. Many of them spend their time on campus completing their homework so their evenings and weekends are free for work or family life.
Although many non-traditional students are exceptionally busy, Wilkins makes an effort to bring them together by hosting events such as educational workshops and an annual end-of-the-year barbecue.
In order to better understand non-traditional students as a group and plan activities that will appeal to them, Wilkins sends surveys to them by email, asking when they are available and what activities interest them. “I believe that people value what they help create…so I love it when I get input from students,” he said. The non-traditional student peer advisor would ordinarily help with event planning, but the previous peer advisor has recently left, and the position is still open. Wilkins plans for the replacement peer advisor to work on programming as well as holding office hours in the lounge.
One of the most important responsibilities for Wilkins and the peer advisor is directing students to appropriate university resources. Since non-traditional student advisors are not specialists in academic advising, they provide general support and guidance so that non-traditional students do not have to navigate the university system alone. Wilkins’ goal, he said, is “to let them know who they can come to if they need any support or guidance. I may not be the person to give you the direct support but I can give you information to get you there indirectly.”
Although staff is limited, Wilkins is working to develop more activities for non-traditional students and continue serving them effectively. “I would love to see Western Oregon become the place for non-traditional students to come,” he said. “I think we are a great place for them to come currently, and I want to continue to improve on that.”