Perennially mature

Oct 30, 2003, vol. 28, no. 5
By Carol Thorbes

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Life long learning may be a mantra of the new millennium, but it is not easy being a perennial mature student.

Given the fast pace at which information technology, subject matter and learning techniques are changing, adjusting to academic life can be as life long as upgrading knowledge.

Shiraz Ramji, a mature student in his 50s at Simon Fraser University, is proof of that.

Originally from Tanzania, Ramji has two undergraduate degrees, two masters' and a diploma under his belt.

Yet, he is taking an eight-week course that helps mature students adjust to academic life while acquiring his SFU post baccalaureate diploma in education.

“I still need to upgrade my learning techniques and computer skills. I also need to stay current on new types of exams,” says Ramji.

He was caught off guard by a new fill-in-the-bubble answer sheet for multiple-choice exams, marked by computer. Erasing and changing the original answers can confuse the computer.

Ramji is in SFU's second annual mature student course, run by the university's health, counselling and career centre (HCCC).

“The course helps us to network with other mature students with similar life experiences so we don't feel so isolated or inadequate,” observes Ramji.

The up to 18 people in the course are more than 23 years of age and come from a mixture of backgrounds. They've typically been out of school a while and have some post-secondary education.

Many are women in their 30s and 40s, juggling the responsibilities of family, school, work and sometimes single motherhood.

Some are struggling with learning English as second language and spend copious amounts of time deciphering lecture notes and research.

Ramji says, “Younger students often don't have as many responsibilities as mature students and their youth enables them to learn faster and burn the midnight oil longer.”

There are less than 160 mature students at SFU, but an increase in those seeking counselling prompted HCCC to create the mature students program.

“About two thirds of the students in the program are women,” says Connie Coniglio, associate director, counselling and clinical support at HCCC. She designed the mature students course along with its instructor Les Reimer.

“I think women often feel less stigma about reaching out for help, while men are more inclined to struggle on their own with acclimatizing to an academic environment before seeking help.” Only two of the 12 students in this fall's session are men.

An additional feature of the program is peer support provided by academically successful mature students.

Students in the program's two hour classes share their individual challenges as mature students and get concrete help on overcoming them through presentations and discussions.

The topics presented and discussed include goal setting, managing stress, improving concentration and motivation, time management, effective study skills, writing research papers, dealing with procrastination and career planning.

For more information on the mature student program see workshops.

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