Living and learning at Anderson University

Fri, 2012-04-27 00:55 -- batch_migrate

Living and learning at Anderson University

By Heather Lowhorn and Deborah Lilly

When alumni come back to visit Anderson University, they are often astonished by how the campus has changed. But what about the changes alums can’t see? What about the changes in student life? In the 1950s there was one telephone for an entire residence hall. Today each room has not only a telephone but an Internet port. At one time students hurried back to their rooms for room check. Today even the library is open until midnight. In the early days, male students risked suspension by talking to female students through residence hall windows. Today there are open house hours. And remember chapel? Well, okay, not everything has changed. What follows is a perspective of campus life from five current AU students — what they do with their time, what they’re concerned about and where they hang out. Here’s a little slice of campus life.

Sixty percent of the student body, including senior Mike Natali of Carmel, Ind., are Hoosiers. Then there are students like freshman Nate Washington who leave one American culture — the urban atmosphere of Queens, N.Y. — for a completely different one — a slower-paced midwestern community. Thirty-one AU students come from outside the borders of the United States. Sophomore Rhyse Furio, a native of the Philippines whose family lives in Lebanon, was drawn to AU through her Church of God connections. Others start out someplace else and decide later to make AU their alma mater. Junior Leslie Carpenter came to AU after spending some time at a state school in Michigan. Junior Janeen Plogger returned to school after marrying and starting her family. She is one of 236 students in AU’s School of Adult Learning.

Adjusting to campus life

The transition is easier for some students than others. “Everything is so laid back here,” Washington laments. “I’m used to being on the go. That’s been the biggest thing, the difference in pace.” Anderson didn’t easily mesh with his New York City background, but he is adapting to the atmosphere and the people. “I wasn’t used to any place being so hospitable. It scared me,” he adds with a small laugh. “For me, if a guy I don’t know looks me in the eye, I’m thinking we’re getting ready to [fight].” When he visited AU, that situation arose. A student caught his eye across the room and walked straight toward Washington.

It wasn’t what he expected though. “He came up to me, [stuck his hand out] and said, ‘How you doing?’ I thought, ‘Wow, these people are really nice.’”

For Furio, the transition wasn’t what she expected. Having known Americans all her life, she says, “I thought America didn’t really have a culture of its own. It’s just everywhere. When I came here, I discovered it actually did have a culture of its own.” People would talk about things she didn’t understand, refer to movies she’d never seen and use slang terms she’d never heard.

Carpenter found the change a pleasure. Even though AU was her first choice, she was reluctant to head five hours away from home. She instead decided to attend a large state school close to home. “I went there, and I thought I could handle it, but I hated it,” she explains honestly. “I cried almost every single day. The environment was terrible. I know I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t gone there and if God hadn’t taught me what He did, but I hated being a number. The teachers didn’t even care who I was.”

Often transfer students find themselves alone in a pile of paperwork, but Carpenter credits transfer counselor Coleen Rector with making the transition so smooth. “[Coleen] sent me postcards; she called me; I had letters updating me all the time.” All of her class credits transferred, and Carpenter quickly felt at home at AU. “The returning students were really accepting. People notice new faces on campus. It’s such a friendly environment.”

Opportunities to learn and lead

Natali wanted to attend a small school where he could get involved in campus life. And he’s done that at AU — SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise), Agathos, College Republicans, Model United Nations, SPI (Student Peace Initiative), intramural sports. His freshman year, he founded Midnight Runners, a group that met at midnight to jog around campus, and The Polite Right, a club that published a monthly newsletter about political conservative activities.

But Natali’s main interest has been in student government. He’s been on the ballot in some form every year since he was a freshman, and every year he’s won an office. Last spring he garnered 70 percent of the student vote to earn his position (no recount necessary). If Natali has learned one thing about the student body at AU in his last four years, it’s that students are not apathetic. As student body president, he receives a dozen voicemail and 25 e-mail messages a day from students expressing an opinion about something: A stronger academic emphasis during new student orientation. Free laundry facilities. More parking.

“When students feel their opinion counts, they participate,” says Natali. “Students are realizing that they are half responsible for what happens here, even if somebody else is making the final call.” Last year, twice as many students — 1,000 — came out to vote for the student body president. An SGA-sponsored forum about the new grading system attracted 300 students.

While student government has been Natali’s niche on campus, Furio has found friends and support in the International Student Association. New international students make their first friends at AU within the ISA. “We have lunches together. We call each other up when we’re lonely,” she explains. And since Scott Martin, ISA advisor, is also the assistant women’s soccer coach, they’re at every home game cheering the AU team and keeping stats.

This year, Furio is the vice president of ISA. “We started meeting as more of a friendship group,” she says. “Now we have formalized it as the International Student Association so that we can organize activities that involve everybody for the whole semester.”

“Everybody” means the entire student body at AU. The ISA hosts a chapel each semester. They participate in the AU-sponsored Heritage Festival. “We’re not a strange group of people,” says Furio. “We’re here to learn about other people, and we’re willing to share our cultures.”

AU has also provided Furio the opportunity to put her Christian faith into practice. “I didn’t really know how to apply my beliefs in the real world,” she explains. One such opportunity came through a Tri-S trip to Toronto, Canada, where she spent spring break working in food banks and homeless shelters.

As a resident assistant (RA), Carpenter is busy keeping an eye on the students on her floor in Myers Hall. Myers Hall is unique in that both male and female students live there. The women live in the northern most half, while the men occupy the southern half. (Rice Hall, the former coed dormitory on campus, is now the freshman women’s dorm.) While residence halls are not usually open to members of the opposite sex, open house hours do allow for visitors. Guests may be escorted to rooms of friends of the opposite sex on Tuesdays and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., on Friday from 5 p.m. to midnight, and on Saturday from 1 p.m. to midnight. Carpenter tries to hang around the floor on open house nights, partly because of her RA duties and partly for social reasons. “It’s always a treat. You want to be around so your friends can come over — study and hang out.”

Carpenter’s responsibilities as an RA limit the amount of time she has for extracurricular activities. She is required to spend a minimum of 15 hours a week as an RA. Her duties are as mundane as handing out toilet paper and as important as praying with residents. “I think the hardest part about being an RA is that I have to be a disciplinarian, a program coordinator and a spiritual leader all in one,” she says. Despite juggling these different roles, Carpenter enjoys the job. “I’ve been so blessed to have the position I do.”

When friends encouraged Washington to consider AU, he said, “I can’t see myself in Indiana.” After New York City, the city of Anderson’s offerings seem pale. “I lived in Queensboro,” he explains, “and there was always a lot going on.” He does enjoy weekend trips to Indianapolis, though, including a recent trip to the Circle City Classic.

His mom, on the other hand, doesn’t mind that Washington has fewer distractions. She wants him to focus on his pre-med and liberal arts classes. Studying at the library has become part of Washington’s daily routine. Then he joins friends for supper, takes a nap and is up again at 11 p.m. to study (plus chat with friends) until 2 or 3 a.m.

“The best thinking hours for me are at night,” Washington says. “If I’ve got to type a paper, I can’t do it during the day. I type a little quicker at night. Maybe I just want to get it done.”

Juggling three kids and four classes

In returning to college, Plogger’s biggest concern was balancing school and family. Plogger says that’s a common concern with adult students. Thirteen years ago, she was a college freshman in Colorado. At the end of the year, she decided to return home to California and trade in campus life for a full-time job. She met and married C.J. Plogger MDiv ’97, and they now have three children. In 1997, her husband, who was pastoring at Main Street Church of God in Anderson, Ind., encouraged her to return to school.

“Having a support system is the only way I’ve been able to do it,” she says. The School of Adult Learning is there to handle the technical stuff — helping students get into the classes they need, pointing them to financial aid opportunities, making sure top students are added to the dean’s list with the traditional students, and keeping them informed.

But Plogger is also lucky to have the support of her husband and church family. Women from the church volunteer to watch 2-year-old Eden during her morning classes, and her husband watches the kids during any evening classes she takes. He was by her side when the Anderson Breakfast Club honored her with a scholarship and again when she was inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, the School of Adult Learning’s honor society.

Never a dull moment

Traditional students are keeping busy on campus. With five classes and his extra-curricular activities, Natali says, “I don’t have very much free time during the day or at night.” He spends around 25 to 30 hours a week focusing on his job as president of the student body. He works in the SGA office, meets with his cabinet and senate committees, and attends bi-weekly meetings with AU President James Edwards and his staff.

It’s not uncommon for Natali to have three or four meetings a night. One particular evening meeting he met with the head of the SGA finance committee, followed by a meeting with the entire senate finance committee. Then he met up with a study group from his psychology class before his Agathos club meeting. And, he adds, “I also study quite a bit.”

Last fall, Natali could have done even more if he wanted. Every weekday afternoon, members of the College Republicans traveled to campaign offices in Anderson and Indianapolis, volunteering as late as 10 p.m. to midnight. “There are so many places to get involved in so many ways,” says Natali.

Including on-campus weekend entertainment. Cheap Thrills, sponsored by Dativus, continues to draw student comedians and spectators. Encore, sponsored by Natali’s social club Agathos, has created another venue for student musicians. At Encore, students sing their favorite songs based on the night’s theme — the 1970’s or Christmas, for example.

“We don’t run out of people to perform,” says Natali. Last spring, 50 people auditioned for the 1990s Encore, and each show only features a dozen acts.

“Roommate dates are a big thing here,” Carpenter adds. It’s a residence hall twist on the blind date. “It’s where an RA plans an activity, and your roommate finds you a date for the evening. They can either tell you who it is or not tell you. They call up the guy and ask them out for you. Then we all get together and go out.”

“There’s a lot of things on campus that I think students are attracted to,” says Natali. “And AU’s a little bit different in the sense that we enjoy getting together as a community.”

Plogger spends her weekends with family. She’s careful that being student doesn’t interfere with motherhood. “My mother started working when I was eight and my sister was five. We were latchkey children,” she says. That experience affected her own outlook on being a parent. “It’s so important for me to be there for my children.” Plogger takes most of her classes in the morning, when 4-year-old Anna and 6-year-old Jonathan are in school. Her afternoons are free to spend with Eden, assist with school parties, pick up the children from school and help with any papers they bring home. “I’ve decided to do my studying after the kids go to bed,” she says. Occasionally, that means she pulls an all-nighter. Even on the weekends, she tries to postpone schoolwork until the kids are in bed.

Being an adult student hasn’t made Plogger feel uncomfortable in the classroom. “The traditional students I’ve interacted with have been great. They’ve been really accepting,” she says. “Even when I was pregnant [with Eden], I never felt I was the odd one out because I was an adult student.”

In return Plogger practices respect for her younger classmates. “It’s their time to learn, to explore and to grow,” she says. She never assumes her life experiences outweigh theirs.

There will always be chapel

As an adult student, Plogger doesn’t have to attend chapel. She appreciates having the extra time to study or work in the psychology department, while Natali, Furio, Washington and Carpenter head over to Reardon Auditorium for the semiweekly event.

AU students are required to attend 18 chapel/convocation sessions a semester. The goals of the program include nurturing a student spiritually, providing an opportunity for learning and growth, developing the community of Christian believers and expanding horizons, including those that may be outside of a student’s comfort zone.

For every chapel/convocation held, Dr. Jerry Grubbs, dean of the chapel, receives approximately 75 comments. If it’s an emotional chapel, he’ll receive 200. He reads each suggestion or perspective shared and responds. Not all require a response. Not all of them are about chapel. He picks up one particular card and reads, “I want cable in my room.” As he lays the card back down, he says, “I really can’t do anything about that.”

Judging from the responses on the chapel cards, the more popular chapel/convocations involve Christian comedy or drama. Students also like to see other students on stage, whether it’s leading praise and worship or sharing their testimony. “Students love when a faculty member stands up and shares how Christ is working in their lives,” says Grubbs. He adds that President Edwards also draws a number of positive responses.

Of course, there are always a few students who want to know why they have to go to chapel at all. Grubbs explains that chapel/convocation is basic to the mission of the Anderson University. To make it voluntary, “would give students the opportunity to miss some of the great spokespersons of this century who come to our campus,” he explains.

Carpenter has a low tolerance for the complaints that run around campus. She feels that having spent a year at another college has made her appreciate just how special AU is. “I really hate it when [AU] students get down on AU, because I think, ‘You have no idea.’ ... I’ve heard people complain about [professors taking class] attendance. Most teachers here take attendance, and if you miss, your grade is lowered.” Carpenter, on the other hand, found her professors’ concern a refreshing change from faculty who didn’t know her name and didn’t care if she attended class.

Washington also enjoys the personal interest faculty take in students. “I really like my chemistry teacher,” he says of first year Assistant Professor Chad Wallace. “He’s a good teacher. There’s a lot of work in the class. Academically, it’s one of my hardest classes, but he puts everything in plain English. And he opens the class on Monday with prayer. I like that. That’s cool because that’s my first class to start the week.”

More than 1,200 students have cars on campus. “Parking is also big deal this year,” Carpenter says. Last year Morrison Hall was a freshman dorm, and since few freshman have cars, there was plenty of parking for the mostly upperclass residents of Myers Hall. This year both halls are filled with upperclassmen, and not everyone can park next to their dormitory. But having attended a large university where a parking spot within a 20-minute walking distance was considered close, Carpenter doesn’t consider walking a few hundred feet a hardship.

No regrets

For these five students, being at AU has been a positive experience. Natali has enjoyed living on campus all four years — three years in Dunn Hall and one year in South Campus apartments. “Living on campus is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. “It’s the one time you can live with all the guys.”

Through the homesickness and the culture shock, Furio has learned that the world isn’t always what you expect it to be: Not every student attending a Christian school is a Christian. Not everyone is willing to move out of their comfort zones to meet new people. “We shouldn’t always have to make the first move,” she says of international students. But Furio says she has grown through her experiences at AU. “It might not be easy all the time, but it’s been good for me,” she says.

Plogger admits that there are times when she thinks, “This isn’t worth it. I need to wait until my kids are out of school.” But those moments don’t last long enough for her to quit. “I enjoy school,” she says. While she may have additional pressures being an adult student, Plogger says, “It was my choice to come back to school.”

In May, Natali graduates. He plans to continue his education in law, business or political science. He’ll be leaving AU with confidence. Besides developing a positive relationship with his professors, he says, “I’ve had a good scholastic education. I’ve been given the opportunity to frame my own future, define what I want to do and actually do it. I’m really glad I chose AU.”