History and American Culture Studies student, Peter Taylor, recently shared his experience of going back to school as a non-traditional student at the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (CAPS)—the professional and continuing education division at Washington University in St. Louis, formerly University College.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your degree program.
I attended Washington University the past four years and I just completed a dual degree program last spring with a Bachelor of Science in History and a Master of Arts in American Cultures Studies. The American Cultures Studies program allowed me to flourish as a lifelong learner and it provided me with the foundation I needed to pursue my Ph.D. in history. The program encompasses all the aspects that I have always been interested in like history, music, literature, and art. I’ve always been a voracious reader across the broad spectrum (15th-century Italian painters up into present day contemporary urban artists). I grew up in a musical family and this program encompasses the music piece from a broad genre of music. I took a folk music class that discussed the inner workings of folk music and the history and origins of it. I absolutely loved it. That was a common theme at CAPS: whatever was presented to me, I relished. I have a love of learning and CAPS at Washington University is the epitome of learning and if you have a passion for it, this is the place to be.
What is it like returning to school as a non-traditional student?
Returning to school later in life as a non-traditional student was a little intimidating at first because I had to learn how to be a student all over again. In order to relearn how to be a student, one has to learn how to be comfortable in your environment. When I stepped into that classroom for the first time in 30 years, the feelings of intimidation quickly dissipated.
I learned early on that I brought experiences and perspectives on the world to the table that my classmates, even my professors, couldn’t bring. Once I realized my classmates were looking to me for clarification or for answers – especially when a military issue or topic arose – I became the resident expert and I became more confident and comfortable. In peacetime, I had joined the Air Force, but Vietnam was my generation’s war. A lot of the guys I had flown with in the Air Force had flown in Vietnam so I know Vietnam; I know the stories of Vietnam. As a history major, and when the subject came up, again I was a resident expert and I was able to lend to the discussion. And that’s what CAPS is all about: learning and being able to lend to the discussion.
What did your classmates bring to the table for you?
The love of learning. It’s hard for me to remember anyone who didn’t want to be there. That makes a difference when people are engaged because they want to show up because they aren’t forced, no one’s making anyone come to class, no one’s making anyone show up on snow days. We all wanted to be there because we all love learning. That makes a difference. It’s actually not just what my classmates or professors brought to the table, it’s also the people in the administration offices at CAPS. The deans, my advisor, even the finance woman! She jumped through hoops to help me out one semester, I know she did, and she didn’t have to. She probably had a pile of stuff on her desk, but she took the time to make sure that my process was where it needed to be. Over and over and over again, year after year, semester after semester, such beautiful, caring, engaged people. People who genuinely cared about me and the process.
When I talk about CAPS to family and friends and especially young people who are considering Washington University, some might look at this process as being unreachable or beyond their reach. I tell them that not only is there an avenue, not only is there a space for you, but those people that I’ve collaborated with, they want you to be there.
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