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Adults make up more than half of Mont Alto graduates

May 19, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

MONT ALTO, Pa. - Sixty percent of the newest alumni from Penn State University's Mont Alto campus are older than 23.

The adults, part of a class of about 140 graduates, said they face challenges while balancing studies and classes with families, bills and jobs.

"These individuals used to be called nontraditional students, but, for Mont Alto, they're now our traditional students," Chancellor David Gnage said.

Adult learners graduating in Saturday's formal commencement ceremony often had more than 10 guests with them, like Dwain Sheffler, who had 20 family members and friends supporting him.

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Sheffler, 54, obtained a bachelor's degree in business after the "opportunity just slipped away" when he was younger.

"I had to learn how to study all over again," said Sheffler, of Chambersburg, Pa.

Debbie S. Chatley, 38, of McConnellsburg, Pa., also earned a bachelor's degree in business.

"It was mainly to open doors," Chatley said. "Even though I may have had more experience in an area, the person going up against me (for a job) would have a degree."

She was one of 30 students who enrolled in a special class at JLG Industries in 1999. When the class ended due to a lack of participation, Chatley began the lengthy commute to the Mont Alto campus, and first earned an associate degree in 2004.

"The only challenging part is time with a capital T. My job at JLG doesn't always end at 40 hours," said Chatley, who has a husband and 10 year old daughter supporting her.

Chatley, the first in her family to earn a degree, already has been putting her studies into practice.

"The neat thing about the classes is that you are learning theories and you can see how that correlates in real life," Chatley said. "It gives you more tool sets. It allows you to see your work from a whole different perspective."

Christine Hartle, 29, was living from paycheck from paycheck in Philadelphia when she enrolled in a nursing program there. Her parents encouraged her to return to Greencastle, Pa.

"I came back to Mont Alto, and it was the best decision I ever made," Hartle said.

Commencement speaker G. Warren Elliott said the campus is successful because of its people.

"The list is extensive of Mont Alto folks and people in this community who believed in you, believed in your future, believed in your potential, believed that you, too, can make a difference with your education," said Elliott, a Franklin County commissioner.

Hartle discovered passion during an externship at Chambersburg Hospital.

"I think life's too short not to care about every person you come across," Hartle said. "To see people's life light up when you smile, fluff their pillow; sometimes it's the smallest thing you do that makes the biggest difference."

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