Go back to school with class at MTC in Lakewood Ranch

by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Whenever I think about going back to school, at a later stage of life, I think of company meetings.

I am talking about some of those self-improvement type lectures, those that tell you how to be more organized.

Twenty minutes in, my eyelids are drooping. I feel like I’ve downed four Benadryl. Where did all this fog come from? Say what?
So what if I was surrounded by a classroom full of students half my age, or more? Would it appear the goofy, old guy needs a nap?

If you have lived a little, you also might have some concerns about going back to school, even if you are intrigued by the idea of advancing your education, or perhaps entering another field of employment. Perhaps you are just bored with retirement.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, the East Campus of Manatee Technical College, 5520 Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, is hosting an open house to answer your questions about going back to school and to calm your fears about being a student long after you felt those days had come to a conclusion.

The open house runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and includes demonstrations such as MTC’s firefighter class in action, EMT students performing simulated tasks and clinical lab students working in their environments. Instructors, counselors and financial aid personnel will be on hand to answer questions. For more information, you can call 752-8100.

I went by MTC to talk with a couple of students who decided to return to school after 50. MTC currently has 47 students aged 50 or older enrolled in its career or technical education programs.

Stacy Nale, 51, is a practical nursing student who has lived in Country Meadows for 10 years. She retired from her job as a high school teacher after 15 years to concentrate on being a mom of her two kids, Hunter Nelson, now 21, and Carter Nelson, now 17.

Nale was intrigued by MTC, which could lead her to become a licensed, practical nurse in about 13 months and for approximately $6,000. She has four months left.

“I have a master’s degree (education in technology) and all I was doing was driving the children around all day,” Nale said. “I don’t want to say that it was unfulfilling, because children are important, but I wanted to do something with my brain.”

MTC instructor Nancie Yonker is gifted according to her 59-year-old student, Central Park's Kelli Healy.

MTC instructor Nancie Yonker is gifted according to her 59-year-old student, Central Park’s Kelli Healy.

MTC instructor Nancie Yonker is gifted according to her 59-year-old student, Central Park’s Kelli Healy.

So she dabbled in banking for a few years, but decided it wasn’t for her.

Then she considered going back to school.

I always had been interested in the medical field,” Nale said. “But math and science scared me. I was 50 and I wasn’t sure I could do it.”

She attended open houses, such as the one available Thursday, Sept. 28, and eventually liked the thought of a fast track to a degree.

Although she might have been a touch intimidated going back to school and being among much younger classmates, Nale said she has been a better student than her previous experience.

“I was a good student,” she said. “But I am a better student now, absolutely. I have a lot of respect for instructors because I have been on their side of the desk. And I make sure I get to every class because I appreciate it more. Definitely I doubted myself, but you get over that quickly.

“And everyone feels out of place sometime. A few kids refer to me as ‘Mom.’ But I would rather feel out of place doing something I am passionate about.”

Nursing instructor Frankie Bailey said seniors who return tend to be great students. “They have high expectations of themselves,” Bailey said. “They are more focused.”

At 59, Central Park’s Kelli Healy, whose holds a degree in health and adaptive physical education, knows she has to be more focused after returning to school for the first time since 1981. Healy is on her way to becoming a licensed massage therapist.

A former owner of the Alagria Salon and Spa in Middletown, R.I., and a fitness trainer and esthetician for more than 17 years, Healy experienced a life upheaval due to a divorce. Currently a fitness trainer at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, she said becoming a licensed massage therapist will allow her to double her salary.

“I had gone through a huge life change,” Healy said. “When things started to settle down, I asked myself, ‘What are my passions?’ I had to figure out how I could increase my income.”

She was concerned how she could balance her return to school while she continued to work. MTC had a seven-month program for her that was affordable at approximately $3,500. She is set to graduate in February.

Although she said she is a “lifelong learner,” she was concerned about becoming a student again.

That has subsided.

“This has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” she said. “I have learned so much, and my instructor (Nancie Yonker) is really gifted. I am blessed.”

She knows she is a much better student now. “Oh my gosh, yes,” she said. “I am much more responsible. Are you kidding? All the partying I did. Now I am doing whatever I can to get the most out of my education.”

Her advice to seniors in East County would be to take advantage of Thursday’s MTC open house.

“They should get themselves physically to the school,” she said. “See if there is something you are interested in. Talk to somebody in the department.

“I thought I was done with learning. In the scope of the world, I should be looking at retirement.

“But when I (graduate), I will be the proudest person in the whole, wide world. I am in a place where anything is possible.”