The Life of a Nontraditional MSU Student

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What’s it like to attend Michigan State University as a nontraditional student? Professional writing junior Libby White is a mother who chose to return to college to pursue her passion for writing. Here’s her story.

White lives in Mason with her boyfriend and her four-year-old daughter, Parker. In her free time, White is a photographer, and she has been riding and training horses for much of her life. “My daughter and I show horses over the summer,” she says, “and I try to ride as often as I can.”

The experience of returning to college can be challenging, and White says, “It’s been a really rough and rocky road getting to where I’m at.” She began at a university directly after high school but had to leave for health and family reasons. Before returning to college, she worked for 15 years in the insurance industry.

White has always been a writer, keeping journals, writing short stories and even helping former employers write policy and procedure manuals. In addition to her schoolwork, she is currently working on a book inspired by women in crime fiction. She hadn’t considered turning writing into a career until after her first semester at Lansing Community College (LCC), where she originally studied early childhood development but realized it wasn’t the right fit: “I started looking at other things, and really going for what I love to do, which is write.”

Challenges are part of life as a nontraditional student, and time management is a big one. White usually works 25 hours a week while attending school, and as a busy parent, finishing assignments can lead to some late nights. Even with taking classes full time and working two jobs, White still makes the Dean’s List, first at LCC and now at MSU. She is also seeking internships to gain experience in digital and technical writing. The challenge is what White likes best about attending MSU. “It really makes me stretch my brain and think about things in a different way.”

Teaching at MSU is White’s dream career. After graduating in December 2015, she plans to work for a year, potentially in freelance work or technical writing, and pay off some of her student loans. Then, she’ll go for her master’s in digital rhetoric and writing and start her doctorate. She writes from a feminist perspective and plans to write her doctoral dissertation on women in technology. “I’m intrigued by the glass ceiling,” she says. “Why is it that women are not seen as being able to keep up with technology, use technology and create solutions within it?”

Although her biggest fear coming to MSU was that she wouldn’t be able to make friends, she’s made great friendships every semester and enjoys her experiences. “It’s cool being a nontraditional student because I add real-life experience to the conversation, and I’m not afraid to speak up,” White says.

Her network of friends and family are supportive of her studies. “My boyfriend is awesome. He picks up the slack, does the dishes and does what needs to be done.” Her daughter is also very understanding; sometimes when White is studying, Parker will grab a notepad and crayon and pretend she also has lots of homework to do. White is inspired to complete her degree to show her daughter that “if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.”


Jenny Crakes is an arts and humanities and professional writing senior in the editing and publishing track. She’s an education coordinator with the RCAH Center for Poetry, and an intercultural aide with the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions. Her interests include creative writing, theatre, dance and the outdoors.


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