Group strives to make U inclusive

Nontraditional students find a home in Reentry Students Organization.

Jamie VanGeest

Mark McKay and Tod Jones met and discussed their lives over Coronas and Cokes during happy hour Friday at Sally’s Saloon and Eatery.

Both were drinking to the semester’s first meeting of the University’s Reentry Students Organization, which provides information, resources, support and advocacy for nontraditional students.

The group started in 2000, but McKay, a linguistics senior, has been the group’s president for three years.

The designation “nontraditional students” includes undergraduate students older than 25, students with children, transfer students, students going to school part time, students who commute to campus and those who come back to the University after taking a break in their education, said Donald Opitz, adviser for the Reentry Students Organization.

“It’s a catchphrase for a variety of student groups,” said Opitz, who is also a math professor.

McKay said, “(Nontraditional students) have some life experience we can bring to the classroom.”

This is McKay’s second time around at the University. Unlike many students, he commutes from Eden Prairie and has a mortgage and a house he shares with his dogs, Stolie and Bailey.

McKay and Opitz also are part of the Advisory Committee on Adult Learners and Student Parents, an organization devoted to issues concerning nontraditional students.

“(The committee) was formed because the University wasn’t as friendly as it could be to the older, nontraditional students and student-parents,” Opitz said.

Certain groups at the University, including those in charge of student orientation, realize they haven’t been doing the best job with nontraditional students, he said.

“By having (student orientation leaders) participate on the committee, it has gotten them to energize their work,” Opitz said.

The committee also aims to ensure nontraditional students don’t get lost in the shuffle of the University’s realignment plan.

Nontraditional students have rich lives, talent and diversity fundamental to the goals guiding the University’s realignment, according to a 2005 report by the committee that was presented to the University.

The committee’s report to the University included statistics on nontraditional students from 1999 to 2003. The committee hopes the University will be able to better address the needs of the students.

One of the group’s goals is to create an office that will serve nontraditional students. Also, the group wants to monitor the progress of these students, according to the report.

The number of military veterans at the University has increased because a lot of veterans are choosing to go back to school after serving, Opitz said.

Jones, who served in the military for four years, was based in Germany and deployed to Kosovo.

He is 29, and came back to the University on the GI Bill to get his degree in Asian languages and literatures.

By the end of their conversation, the two strangers realized they had something in common other than being nontraditional students. McKay and Jones discovered they are in the same ethics and computing class.