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Non-traditional students can often seem invisible or decentralized. Most live in housing on the outskirts of campus or in spare rooms in dorms; two of the students interviewed here live in the basement of Joe McNabb. Yet they are still a crucial element of life at Principia with amazing perspectives and ideas to share. Their ability to reenter college life after years spent either in the professional world or at other schools, sets an inspiring example of flexibility, ambition, and perseverance. The Pilot interviewed five domestic and international students who don’t fit the typical Principia student mold, but are working to find their niche.
As a husband, father of five, scuba diving enthusiast, and successful businessman, it seems safe to say that Stephen Calkins-Keyes has more real life experience than his fellow college sophomores.
Still, Calkins-Keyes has faced certain challenges returning to school in pursuit of a Chemistry degree. “Animal magnetism can really try to convince you that you can’t come back to school when you’re 51,” he said.
Calkins-Keyes grew up attending Christian Science Sunday School, but did not fully commit to the religion until later in life. He said the fact that he was saved from suicide 19 years ago taught him that God doesn’t see the flaws we often think we see in ourselves.
He attended Principia College once before as a non-traditional student in 1993, but left school when he fell in love with and later married his wife in 1994. The couple lived in Shanghai for over three months before settling in San Antonio, working in the real estate business and starting a family.
Calkins-Keyes considered returning to Principia when his mortgage business collapsed: “I really loved my experience at Prin,” he said. “I had never finished college when I was younger [and] I was very interested in getting a degree.”
After applying to Principia in July 2009, Calkins-Keyes was accepted, and he was living in Elsah with his wife and their five children by September. At that point the family had no permanent living situation and stayed with his in-laws, Chrissy and Jeff Steele, until they were able to find a home on campus.
The Calkins-Keyes children, who were home schooled by their mother until this year, now attend the Principia Lower and Middle Schools. Calkins-Keyes said: “They’re really proud of me. They tell me that every day.”
Although keeping up with academics and family can be difficult, Calkins-Keyes knows the value of education. He said he has advised some of his peers to consider graduate school before entering the work force because “it’s so hard to come back [to school].”
Junior Catherine Faust said she thought she was done with Principia when she left campus in 1996.
After two years in Elsah, Faust moved back to her home in Charleston to work and attend school, but said she soon found that it wasn’t working for her. “My focus wasn’t on school [at the time],” she said.
Faust said the decision to complete her Education and Sociology majors evolved over a few years. She ultimately decided she wanted to finish where she started. “I know I can go anywhere to get a college degree but I felt that I needed to come back [here],” she said.
Faust was originally drawn to Principia because her sister attended the Upper School and College. Faust said that Principia does not seem to have changed much in the last 14 years. She added that the school’s special focus on serving the Cause of Christian Science has remained the same.
Even with support from professors and her family, Faust said, “It’s not an easy transition.”
Faust said she greets and talks with her housemates in Joe McNabb, but still spends much of her free time outside of classes and work at the Guest House on her own. She also said that she feels cut off from other nontraditional students, most of whom live in Beeman. Faust added, “If somebody were to ask me, ‘Who are the other non-trads?’ I would say, ‘I have no clue.’”
She added that it seems expected for non-traditional students to take the initiative in asking for help. “[As an adult,] you learn that it’s your responsibility. Nobody else is going to do it for you.”
Despite the challenges, Faust said she wouldn’t change her decision to return to Principia. She added, “This is where I’d rather be.”
It is rare for students to have work experience in their fields of study before ever setting foot on campus, but freshman Jeremiah Chiteri of Kenya has already worked as a teacher for years.
Chiteri taught Swahili and Social Studies to children aged eight to 13 at a private school in Kenya before he was accepted to Principia. He received his teaching certificate in Uganda, but decided that earning a degree would improve his job opportunities.
Chiteri first heard about Principia from his church in Korowe. He learned more about the institution from his brother, who graduated from Principia in 2006. Chiteri applied to Principia for the first time in 2003 and again in 2006 but was missing test scores or required paperwork both times. He was ultimately accepted in 2009.
Chiteri said that he navigated the application process with some help from his brother. He added, “Most of my family members knew that I was coming here when everything was already set.”
Chiteri said he feels as though his fellow students connect with one another through classes, work or housing. However, “unless there is something tying you together,” he added. ”Then you will [not] know each other.”
Consequently, Chiteri said there are still many students on campus with whom he hasn’t developed a particularly strong bond. “I am very willing to know more about people, but I still don’t know how to get [to] them because everyone seems so closed,” said Chiteri.
Although life in Elsah could hardly be more different from life in Kenya, Chiteri said he thinks his Principia education is “a good experience” so far.
Sophomore Brenda Marroquin-Phillips might never have heard of Principia if it weren’t for her husband.
She became a Christian Scientist five years ago after her husband introduced her to the religion, and she visited Principia for the first time last year. “When I came to visit, I loved the environment, and that’s why I decided to come,” said Marroquin-Phillips.
Marroquin-Phillips is originally from Honduras, but now lives in Palm Beach, Florida. Before coming to Principia, she was enrolled as a part-time student at a community college in the area, studying to be a paralegal.
Like many other non-traditional students, Marroquin-Phillips has found the transition to full-time student life a bit challenging. “It’s hard being out of college for a while,” she said.
She added that it might be helpful to have an orientation designed specifically for non-traditional students. She said a study skills workshop would most likely help students regain an understanding of what it means to work in an academic setting.
According to Marroquin-Phillips, life as a non-traditional student is not without financial challenges. She added, “I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to come back next quarter because I have to work.”
Marroquin-Phillips said she does not have a job on campus because she is afraid work might get in the way of her studies, which are already fairly time-consuming.
Whatever the future may bring, Marroquin-Phillips said she is pleased with Principia so far, especially compared to her experience with the faculty at her previous school.
Marroquin-Phillips said of Principia: “It’s beautiful. I really love it.”
Although Luke Ochieng first heard of Principia in 2006 from a friend, he didn’t initially consider filling out an application.
Ochieng had already received a bachelor’s degree in Food and Nutrition in 2005. He said that in Kenya, the government subsidizes education for certain students and consequently determines which classes and schools these young men and women will attend.
Ochieng researched Principia on his own before ultimately deciding to apply. Around the time he was accepted, he also had the opportunity to volunteer with an NGO in Nigeria. He relied on prayer throughout the decision-making process. “God has always been my partner,” said Ochieng. He said he ultimately chose to attend Principia because he wanted to grow spiritually and be exposed to diverse cultures. Ochieng said, “The entire world is represented here.”
Although his primary field of study in Kenya was not his first choice, Ochieng has had the opportunity to try new things as a one-year enrichment student at Principia.
Ochieng has taken Business, Physics, Computer Science, and language courses over the last year. He also said he is currently enrolled in a Theater practicum with Patrick McCreary this quarter and is enjoying his work as the meta-head in Beeman.
Throughout his experience at Principia, Ochieng said he has appreciated the fact that professors are always willing to help their students. Unlike classes at larger colleges and universities, Ochieng said, “[Here] you get real attention.”
Perhaps the most important lesson Ochieng has learned is of the commonality between students. Ochieng said he has observed that a shared faith is the most important aspect of a Principia education. Despite background, age and nationality, “We are all Scientists,” said Ochieng.