Program geared to adults with degrees

Jamie VanGeest

Kathleen Peterson started her University education while America was embroiled in World War II and completed it during President Bill Clinton’s second term.

But the phenomenon of older students like Peterson, 90, pursuing a University education is hardly uncommon. In fact, the average age of students in the Master of Liberal Studies program is 40.

The Master of Liberal Studies is a 30-credit degree in which students can tailor their curriculum to meet their personal interests and professional goals. All classes are held during evenings and on Saturdays. The program is geared toward adults with a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree.

Many adults in the program have full-time jobs during the day and go to school at night.

Peterson received an invitation to attend the master’s program in 1995, but took a year to think it over. She had completed her bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1988 while she was in her seventies.

Peterson said she had trouble gathering recommendations for admission into the master’s degree program because all her former professors had moved on or had died.

Jo Ellen Lundblad, the associate program director for the Master of Liberal Studies program said the program has 200 students, making it one of the largest degree programs at the University. Currently, the program’s oldest students are in their seventies.

Peterson eventually gained entry into the program.

Peterson, who has lived in St. Paul her entire life, wrote her master’s thesis on retirees who live independently in downtown St. Paul compared with people who live in assisted living facilities.

After getting her degree, Peterson headed an effort to clean up St. Paul’s Mears Park.

Peterson currently is in charge of 45 gardeners and still picks up the trash in the Mears Park during the winter.

When she attended the University, Peterson drove herself to classes from her apartment in downtown St. Paul. Peterson recently stopped driving before celebrating her 90th birthday in November.

The school hasn’t changed much since Peterson took her first course at the University in the 1940s, she said. The one thing that sticks out about her sociology course in 1943 was that at the end of the term, the professor announced he was a Communist. This kind of proclamation was acceptable because Russians and Americans weren’t enemies at the time, Peterson said.

Peterson’s husband received his master’s degree in administration from the University after serving in World War II. Her son and daughter-in-law also earned University degrees.

She now is working on a book of poetry she hopes to have published. Peterson said she misses being in school and thinks of going back.

“I think nothing that you do is ever lost after you die, what you do is left with other people,” Peterson said.

Kathy Schmidt is in the University’s Master of Liberal Studies Program. She is a 46-year-old Plymouth resident who also teaches at a local community college and is raising her 4-year-old son, Noah.

“I think (learning) is a lifelong thing,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the experience of an older student can be more difficult because some work 40 hours a week and have families.

“You have to work your homework around working full time and taking care of children,” she said.

Schmidt said she appreciates the diversity of ages in her class, where the youngest is 23 and the oldest are in their fifties.

“You can learn a lot of things from the younger people as well as the older people,” she said.

Schmidt is enrolled in the course Borderlands: Crossing, Transgressions, and Creations. The class, part of the Master of Liberal Studies curriculum, is exploring the culture along the Mexican and American border.

Schmidt said she wants to use what she learns in the course to start a Chicano studies class at her community college.