Counselor, Avery Point Campus
“As a former returning adult student, I know that sense of being overwhelmed,… I lived it. I try to help students craft a program to finish a degree as quickly and efficiently as possible. Helping students realize their dreams is tremendously rewarding.” Balancing family, work, and school commitments isn’t a new concept to Dr. Nancy Steenburg, a Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) adviser and Assistant Director of the BGS and Non-Degree Programs at UConn-Avery Point. She knows first hand about the challenges faced by returning adult students.
“I earned my PhD. starting at the age of 41, balancing family and working,” she said. “I was a single parent so I have tremendous empathy for working adult students who are trying to balance all those aspects of their lives.”
Dr. Steenburg remembers one incident in particular when she experienced the overwhelming feeling of trying to do it all.
“I was writing a paper for my Ph. D. program and I heard my two sons – who, at that point, were 9 and 12 – yelling at each other,” she said. “They erupted into the room behind me and it was ‘He did, he said,’ and ‘He did, he said.’ I said, ‘If you’re not bleeding, I don’t want to hear about it − go back to your rooms.’ I know that sense of being overwhelmed, that point in life where you’re trying to do more than you have time for. I lived it.”
Multi-tasking has always been a way of life for Dr. Steenburg. She oversees the BGS office, supervises staff members, advises 140 BGS students, and teaches two evening history classes. Dr. Steenburg has taught history courses at the Storrs and Avery Point campuses since 1996, while working on her first book. Published in 2005, Children and the Criminal Law in Connecticut, 1635-1855: Changing Perceptions of Childhood won the Homer D. Babbidge Jr. Award from the Association for the Study of Connecticut History in 2006.
In her current role as BGS advisor and Assistant Director of the BGS and Non-Degree Programs, a typical day includes extensive one-on-one contacts with students. In meetings with prospective students, Dr. Steenburg helps them with the application process, goes over their transcripts and determines which existing credits are transferable, and how those credits will fulfill UConn academic requirements. “I try to help students craft a program to finish a degree as quickly and efficiently as possible,” she says.
Dr. Steenburg also meets with her regular BGS advisees to help them determine what requirements they have fulfilled and what classes are still needed. “Right now I’m really busy because its registration for spring,” she said in early November. “One day this week, I met with or spoke with 13 different students.”
A critical component of her role as BGS advisor is to help allay students’ fears over perceived roadblocks to finishing their degree. Taking math and language classes when you’ve been out of school for a number of years can be daunting. Steenburg says math is the biggest obstacle to adults inquiring about the program.
“More than half of my prospective students blanch – fear literally comes into their faces when they learn about UConn’s requirement of two quantitative competency classes,” she says. “I explain the support system we have, and the lower level math classes that make it possible for adult students to succeed. That generally calms them down.”
Students are less apprehensive about the foreign language requirement but for those with concerns, Steenburg explains the benefits of learning a second language.
“I try to use the foreign language requirement as an opportunity to talk about how Spanish is an excellent second language, especially in Southeastern Connecticut, which has a high Spanish speaking population,” she said.
Passionate about the BGS program, Dr. Steenburg loves to quote 19th century writer George Eliot, who wrote “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
“When students apply, many write essays about the road not taken − the regrets they have for not finishing college the first time around,” she says. “I had one woman who left college after two years. At the end of our interview, she was in tears because − with the flexibility of the BGS program − she knew she knew she was going to be able to balance a full-time job, children, a husband, a house and an education. They were tears of joy because she had thought she’d never be able to finish her degree.”
Making a difference by showing people how they can achieve their goals − no matter how old they are − makes Dr. Steenburg’s work a labor of love.
“We had a student who decided to return to college when he was 72,” she said. “He was retired so he didn’t need it for his job. The reason he returned was that his 92-year-old mother wanted him to finish college before she died. He graduated last December at 76; his Mom was 96. Helping students realize their dreams is tremendously rewarding.”