It’s never too late to learn

Lorena Gregory and a student test out the new playground at Operation Breakthrough.
Lorena Gregory and a student test out the new playground at Operation Breakthrough.

UMKC supports non-traditional students

It’s not always easy being a non-traditional student. But at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, non-traditional students have found support.

Searching for a purpose – Lorena Gregory’s story

As an 18-year-old freshman at Southern Methodist University, Lorena Gregory focused on socializing and passing classes. She took education for granted and she couldn’t decide on a major.

To discover her interests, Gregory decided to take some time away from college. Over the next few years, she worked in restaurants, children’s programs and veterinary clinics.

When her dad moved to the Kansas City area in 2002, Gregory followed him. She bartended and then worked at Paseo Middle School through AmeriCorps.

Discovering her passion

In the spring of 2005, she received a scholarship through the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to obtain a Youth Work Certificate at YouthNet of Greater Kansas City – a nonprofit organization that promotes afterschool youth programs. The certificate was a 33-hour college credit certificate awarded by Kansas City-area Metropolitan Community Colleges.

While working toward her Youth Work Certificate, Gregory discovered that her passion was improving children’s lives. She also volunteered at Downey Side Adoption Agency and Operation Breakthrough – a nonprofit organization that helps children who are living in poverty.

Returning to school

Once Gregory discovered that she wanted to help children, she enrolled at UMKC in 2006. As a 25-year-old non-traditional student, Gregory needed financial assistance.

She applied for the Bernard Osher Reentry Scholarship Program, which became available at UMKC that year. Funded through the San Francisco-based Bernard Osher Foundation, the scholarship program provides students between the ages of 25 and 50 an opportunity to resume their studies at select four-year baccalaureate institutions.

For two years, Gregory has received an Osher scholarship of $7,000.The scholarship has allowed her to take 12 hours of evening classes while working 40 hours a week as an early childhood program assistant at Operation Breakthrough.

“Everyone should do what they’re passionate about,” Gregory said. “Everyone has the right to be fulfilled. If you give yourself a chance to explore, you can find out what that really is. I feel so blessed to be able to do this. Not having stress and not having to worry about money mentally frees me.”

Now that she has discovered her passion, Gregory said she is a better student. As a traditional college student, Gregory said she was taking classes to pass. Now, Gregory said she takes classes to learn.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in general studies from UMKC, Gregory said she plans to earn a master’s degree and work with children through the Peace Corps.

Finding support at UMKC

In addition to the Osher scholarship, Gregory said UMKC encourages non-traditional students.

“At other schools, most of my classes had kids who were spaced out and didn’t understand,” Gregory said. “It’s nice to be with other people who take classes just as seriously. They’re the ones paying for it and making a sacrifice to be here.”

As an urban campus, UMKC serves more than traditional students, said Liz Barton, scholarship coordinator at UMKC. UMKC also serves non-traditional, first-generation college students and the community.

Through the Program for Adult College Education (PACE), UMKC mentors non-traditional students, Barton said. The program also allows students to finish their bachelor’s degrees at night, online or on the weekends.

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