Adult students balance school, work, family

As the typical College student grapples with the formidable task of managing schoolwork, extracurricular activities and social life, some students may learn from the experience of interactive multimedia major Mami Akiyama – a full-time housewife with a full-time course load.

“The key is balance,” she said.

Akiyama, 48, lives in Princeton, N.J., and is finishing her last semester as a College undergraduate. In recent years, the College has seen an influx of non-traditional students returning to school, despite the demands of family and careers.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show “adult students are the fastest-growing educational demographic,” according to Minnesota Monthly’s “The Benefits of Adult Education.”

“It is a win/win situation,” Akiyama said. She is able to concentrate on her studies in interactive multimedia without being “drain(ed) from the partying experience. I don’t need all the excitement,” she said.

Adults returning to school face their share of challenges, including the drastic changes in technology over the past two decades. According to Akiyama, her classmates perceive “vinyl records (as) more like fossils.”

The pressures of family and expenses have steered some away from returning to education, but for Caroline Steward, 54, “education is a lifelong goal.”

Steward, a resident of Ewing, graduated from the College in the ’90s with a master’s degree in nursing. Steward is currently an emergency room nurse at Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Cherry Hill, N.J. During her time at the College, Caroline took as many courses as she could afford and attended school part-time while raising her children.

As for Akiyama, she originally received her associate’s degree in advertising design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Since graduating, she has had experience in photography, advertising and graphic design, most notably at DCA Advertising in New York City, where she spent seven years.

Unlike many College students, Akiyama has the experience of the working world and has figured out how to live independently.

“My attitude might be different if I was a freshman today. I might not take school as seriously,” she said. Only after continuing her education was she able to “see the other side of school life.”

The workload is “tough,” she said. It is critical to keep up with assignments at a good pace and not procrastinate. Just as any new freshman is anxious about transitioning, Akiyama was very nervous about fitting in. The hardest part was “not knowing,” she said, “not knowing if I (would) be ready to come back to school with people more than half my age.”

Akiyama is still learning from her peers. With so many young people passionate about academic work and extracurricular endeavors, “it can be humbling,” she said.

Faye Brady, another part-time student, is currently earning her doctorate in education at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. Brady has found her return to the classroom “more meaningful” than when she was younger. Brady knows what she enjoys and is able to concentrate on what is relevant to her career. “Being in the academic world is a nice place to be,” she said. “It keeps your brain alive.”