Old Dog, New Tricks

By Scott Sinclair

Contributing Writer

It’s 7:30 a.m., I’m sitting at my computer, hot cup of coffee nearby, just scrolling through my email. A typical start to my work day, much like the many years of work days before. This work day and this workplace are very different however, because at a very non-traditional time in my life, I have joined the ranks of those seeking secondary education at the New Kensington branch of Penn State University.

For any of us that perhaps didn’t choose the direct route from high school to college, even getting the process started is an exercise. An exercise in soul searching, weighing pros and cons, trying to even see if you can make the logistics work between keeping the bills paid and keeping the grades up.

Let’s face it, I haven’t stepped into a classroom since what seems like the days of the Roman Empire—Okay, maybe not that long ago, but given the technology I’m using today, we might as well have been writing on papyrus scrolls then. Mind you there was a time and place for togas, but that’s a whole different story.  And what of the culture shock? It is said that college is a place where many people from many backgrounds come together. I have met many people in my same situation since I’ve started, but for the most part, I see the faces of people that remind me of my former players from my days as a high school hockey coach. This of course brings back humorous recollections of being corrected very sternly by them when I somehow misspoke about a current social trend happening at that time. How dare I!

Yet here I am, having just gone through a financial aid process that I swear I may have signed over the rights to one of my internal organs, at college. This is where the fun really begins.

Now, it goes without saying that there has been a seismic evolution in technology in the classroom, and I’ve been well behind the curve. So a typical discussion of how to retrieve information for class sounded something like, “So, you just click on the link marked ‘assignment’ and you just drag the gghudncfe to the ddinfhbsbde and it just pops up in the jjkhndbrbdmcjfu, pretty simple right?” Yeah. Sure. The first time I heard someone say, “Take out your book and open to page x”, I almost wept openly.

Fortunately, information is still information and learning is still learning, so I soldiered on. In some cases, this techno boom actually puts me at a competitive advantage in the classroom. Like the time we were told in class about the advantages of storing our information to the cloud because it would keep us from having to “drag around” a flash drive. Really?! That little thing? I guess I’m of the era when a hardbound copy of Moby Dick is something you “drag around”. A flash drive is something you lose with your car keys, or leave in your pocket on laundry day, or drop between the couch cushions, but I don’t feel it needs “dragged” anywhere. Call me old fashioned. Or Ishmael. Whichever.

Then there is the social tightrope walk known as student life. Let’s face it, as a long time working adult who lived in the “full price” social and entertainment world, it’s certainly a breath of fresh air to find out that part of my tuition goes toward a great number of cool things to do either totally free or on the cheap.

The Pirate game for example was a very cool way to spend a Friday night. I love getting involved in stuff like this, but I am just as confused and overwhelmed at times with my place in the social dynamic as I am with all the classroom technology. One funny conversation to illustrate this point happened when I was talking to a young man and fellow musician about music, and some of the rock clubs in Pittsburgh where I used to play in the 90s.

“Do you remember the club ‘Graffiti’ in Oakland?” he asked. “Absolutely!”, I responded, feeling some common ground developing. “My dad played there in the 90s,” he replied. “Well that’s really cool,” I responded, very much feeling like a fossil that had been unearthed from the aforementioned common ground.

Overall however, this has been a very positive experience. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great people, faculty and students, fresh out of high school or further along in life, and I see everyone working hard to achieve what they came here for.

As I observe these things and all of the other sights and sounds happening around me, it stirs up a lot of positive energy, not only in myself and the things I’m working toward, but in the people I see every day. Because one of the greatest things about going back to school a little further along in life, especially having been a coach and mentor in the past, is that you want nothing but the best for the young people you see around you who are diving into the adult pool for the first time. I can say also, based on conversations I’ve had and with relative certainty, that we “non-traditional” students are always willing to lend a hand to our “traditional” peers.

That is probably one of the biggest legacies of the older student; part teacher, part student. Confident in meeting life’s challenges, yet fearful about starting over, and wise on a number of subjects except maybe the one you need for question three on your exam. So there you have it, a brief look inside the life of a guy that maybe took a few years off after high school. I’d tell you more but at this point I think I need a nap.  

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