Shira Lawrence knows what its like to feel out of place.
The 28-year-old not only drives an hour to her college classes each day, but she also takes care of her 5-year-old son. When she started college as a non-traditional student, the experience was overwhelming.
It seems like college was designed for the traditional student, said Lawrence, an education major at Middle Georgia State College.
Faculty at the colleges Macon campus are hoping to ease that burden by offering a place for non-traditional students to get assistance. The Center for Adult Learners opened Tuesday in the education building.
About 43 percent of students on the Macon campus are considered non-traditional, said Molly Kimsey, co-director of the center. Technically, a non-traditional student is older than the typical college student age range of 18 to 22. But, in most cases, non-traditional students have additional responsibilities and very different lives in comparison to other students, officials say.
Many take care of families, work full-time jobs and commute long distances. Several even serve in the military -- all while completing college degrees. Additionally, many older students have been out of the education loop for a while and are not sure what to do when enrolling in college, Kimsey said.
They dont know how to navigate the higher education environment, so they kind of get lost, she said.
When a group of faculty members worked part-time to help non-traditional students, they realized they were dealing with a full-time need. After snagging a $25,000 grant through the University System of Georgia Adult Learning Consortium, the group decided to open the colleges first center for non-traditional students.
College officials plan to open similar centers at the colleges other four campuses in Warner Robins, Cochran, Dublin and Eastman, Provost Marti Venn said.
We desired, we needed and we promised to do more, said Loleta Sartin, co-director of the center. Our role is to connect every non-traditional student who comes through our door to the resources on our campus.
The goal is to navigate students to get the help they need, such as financial aid, class registration or tutoring. Staff members also will listen to their issues and advocate for their needs, Sartin said.
The center provides areas for students to socialize, study rooms, laptop rentals and even clothes. The Professional Closet also opened Tuesday, giving non-traditional students dressy clothes to wear on job interviews or during class presentations. Students pay a fee -- $10 for suits, $5 for shoes and individual pieces, and $2 to $3 for accessories -- to purchase clothes. The center partners with a local dry cleaning company to clean the clothes, which are donated by faculty and students.
Inside the center, a closet, which once was stuffed with old computers and other equipment, now holds a couple racks of suits, dresses, ties, shoes and even purses. The goal is to garner donations from local stores and have at least 5,000 pieces of clothing by the end of the year, organizers say.
Many times adult learners, theyre changing careers or they were stay-at-home moms, Kimsey said. And they may not have the right clothing.
Many students not only have limited time to find professional clothes but also limited finances, she said. Its one of the ways Middle Georgia State faculty hope to attract and keep non-traditional students, such as Lawrence.
The new center will benefit Lawrence now, but it especially would have helped when she was a new student. It would have been nice to have extra support while struggling through her initial classes, she said. Lawrence hopes an official advocate will help teachers and other students understand the obstacles non-traditional students face, she said.
It would have meant more success in those courses I barely got through, she said. Now we have somewhere to go. We were like the child no one understood, but now theyre (addressing) our needs.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.