Thursday, February 7, 2013

Going back to school at 56.

0n November 1 of 2012 I went to work as usual.  There was a strange announcement made for me to come to the main office area.  I hesitated for a second thinking to myself “Is this it?”  The request was so unusual that I could not help but think that I was about ready to be fired.  When I arrived I was escorted to the break area and it was totally empty. Then the new lady form HR showed up and she was very nervous.  By now I was sure that I knew what was about ready to happen.  I did what I had already done twice that day for two other people, I started reassuring her that everything was going to be alright, and there was no real problem.  Besides I was expecting this and I was ready to go.

I had worked there for 3 and ½ years.  There were currently about 35 employees and only 6 of them had been there longer than I had.  One of them was the boss’s wife.  It was the kind of place where you either move up to a better job elsewhere or you will get fired.  The president of the company regularly spied on everyone, reading their emails etc.  I even found a “keyboard logger” installed on my computer several times over the years.  I knew that you really had to “watch your back”. 

The same day that I lost my job I went looking for a new job and tried to apply for unemployment by visiting the “UI” (Unemployment Insurance) office.  I found out that you have to apply for unemployment on the Internet.  There are many pages of information that you have to fill out to apply.  I was turned down for unemployment three times.  The first time was because I was laid off on a Thursday.  Because I had “worked” 4 days that week I did not qualify for unemployment and I had to start the entire process all over again.  The next time I was denied benefits was because I was fired for “reasons other than lack of work”.  This time all I had to do was to appeal the decision and show that I was fired for no real reason at all.  Finally after a month of trying I was able to get unemployment.

Once on unemployment I was summoned to the unemployment office for counseling.  When I visited the unemployment office they said that there were several options available for me to pursue.  One of those options was to go back to school.  There was an underused $8000 grant available to go back to school.  This option even included an extension in the unemployment benefits.  The catch was that you had to take engineering classes to study for a degree in an engineering field.  Since I did not have a degree this sounded like a good option.  I did have 7 years of college level education, but none of the places where I had studied at offered a degree back when I went there.

I was told that I could take these classes at the local community college that was only about three blocks from my house.  I needed to sign up quickly as it was mid December.  There were three more problems I had to overcome.  One was that the actual engineering classes were at the main branch of the community college, over an hour drive away.  The next problem was that I had to take a test to get back into college, and the third problem was that it was now January; I would be starting in the second semester without taking the first semester classes that were a prerequisite.

I took the “Compass” test to test my ability in English and math.  It is taken on a computer.  The program seems to know how well you are doing and give you questions to find just where your abilities fall.  When I got to the math I knew I was in trouble. It only gave me a few math questions then it ended the test!  My test scores were 96 for reading, 95 for writing and 31 for math….  So I went to the library and read some books on calculus and retook the test a couple of weeks later.  This time I got a 75 in math so I would be able to start with college math and would not have to retake high school math all over.

The next problem was to get into the classes mid-term.  I had to contact the professor to talk with him to get permission to join the class, but he and almost everyone else was gone on Christmas vacation.  I tried calling and emailing the professor but did not get a response.  Someone finally gave me a form and told me to go to the first class a little early and talk with the professor there.  I did get an email response just hours before attending the class.  The professor thought I could handle it but by the time the class was over I was not very sure I could handle it!

The third problem was that the engineering classes were in Batavia, an hour drive away.  However the class scheduling was such that I could just go there on Monday and Wednesday and could attend two classes while I was there. 

It has now been almost a month and after the initial overload I am doing OK.  I am taking only 12 credits this semester and I would recommend anyone near my age should start with the minimum number of classes until they get used to college life.  Things have changed a lot since I was last taking college classes. 

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