Nontraditional students look for new beginnings

Dale Fox
Dale Fox at Graduation Central

When Allegheny Chemical closed down its Ridgway plant in 2006, putting Steve Buck of Ridgway out of work, he didn’t want to move.

            “I’m done movin’,” he said. Fifty-eight years old and tired of working at one manufacturing job after another, he wanted a job he could keep until retirement.

            His wife and daughter, both nurses, told him about the strong job market for male nurses.

            “I felt that my employment prospects were much better in the health field,” he said. “So I thought, ‘let me go reinvent myself and start a career in nursing.’”

            Buck will be taking the first steps toward his new career when he crosses the stage in the Bromeley Family Theater in Blaisdell Hall at Pitt-Bradford on Sunday to receive his nursing pin.

            Later in the day, Dale Fox of Ridgway will receive her diploma at the afternoon commencement ceremonies at the Pitt-Bradford Sport and Fitness Center.

            Fox didn’t even know she was embarking on a new career when she began taking classes at the Community Education Council in St. Marys 10 years ago.

            In fact, she had had a successful career with DuPont Chemical based on a two-year information technology certificate. She was also a small-business owner, having renovated and opened The Towers Victorian Inn.

            But she started taking the classes for two reasons. She was encouraged by her friend Deborah Dick Pontzer, former director of outreach services at Pitt-Bradford. The other reason was more personal.

            “As I got older, I felt like I’d made a mistake when I was younger and really wanted my degree,” the now-53-year-old Fox said.

            Through her bed and breakfast, she had become involved in community development, helped co-found the Ridgway Heritage Council and became involved in the building of the Clarion-Little Toby Rail Trail and creation of the Pennsylvania Wilds tourism initiative.

            It was slow going. She was working, running a business, raising her son and taking one class at a time.

            After taking a number of business and technical courses, she started working on some general education courses as they were offered at the CEC. That’s when she discovered Dr. Marvin Thomas, professor of history, who is well-known on the Pitt-Bradford campus for his dramatic lectures.

            It took the wisdom of her juniors, however, to help her discover her new passion.

            “The younger students would always be asking me what the right answers were,” she said. When the younger students found out she was a business management major, they were shocked, and asked her why she wasn’t a history/political science major.

            “So I decided to switch,” she said. “I never regretted it one minute.”

            It wasn’t the first time she would learn from her fellow students.

            Of the other nontraditional students she met, she said, “It never failed to amaze me how busy these people were and how they managed to do it. Some of the things I’ve seen ‘non-trads’ do just blow my mind.”

            She was no less impressed by the traditional students she met.

            “I love being around the young students,” she said. “They were very, very impressive young people. It was fun to have that interplay between generations in a scholastic setting.”

            The history is useful in her volunteer and professional work with historic preservation, as is her knowledge of the political process.

            Buck has yet to decide how exactly he will put his new degree to work, but he knows he will enjoy the interaction with people that nursing requires.

            If he has a fault as a nurse, he says, it’s that he enjoys visiting with his patients too much when maybe he should be moving on to help the next person.

            The nursing curriculum is tough, he said, but he wasn’t afraid to ask for help from his wife, daughter and fellow classmates, with whom he would study in groups to master technical material.

            In two years of tough classes and clinical, he’s become close with his fellow nursing students and chose to go to his pinning ceremony Sunday to share in the accomplishments of his fellow nurses.

            “I’ve enjoyed all of it,” he said of his late-in-life college years. “It’s going to be hard to walk away from the campus and not be affiliated with it, but somewhere there’s a whole hospital or nursing home full of people whom I haven’t met.”