First workshop in Project Linking Lives set for Thursday

Tennessee Tech University is the place to be this week for anyone who’s ever thought about continuing her education but may not be sure how to juggle it along with such daily responsibilities as being a spouse, parent and employee.

Creating an educational seminar to serve as an orientation for incoming non-traditional students will be the topic of a round-table discussion set for 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15, in Room 370 of the Roaden University Center.

The session, which is free and open to the public, is a part of TTU’s “Project Linking Lives,” a women’s mentoring initiative for nontraditional students made possible through a grant from the American Association of University Women’s Leadership and Training Institute.

“As one of only 10 proposals selected from a nationwide pool of applicants, it continues the AAUW’s focus on higher education as the gateway to women’s economic security,” said principal investigator Lachelle Norris, an associate professor of sociology at TTU.

With a campus population that is approximately 12 percent nontraditional, more than half of that student category is made up of women.

“There are currently no resources or services specifically provided to nontraditional students at TTU,” Norris said. “This has resulted in a growing segment of this student population frequently expressing feelings of isolation, invisibility and frustration.”

When students feel those barriers have become insurmountable, they often drop out of college — and women face even greater challenges when it comes to being nontraditional students, she said.

“Female nontraditional students face particular challenges, since they are more likely to be the family caregivers and employed, as well as being students,” Norris said.

Compounding those challenges, research from the Tennessee Economic Council on Women has shown that counties in the Upper Cumberland region rank among the lowest in the state for employment, earnings and economic autonomy for women.

“For many women, higher education is seen as the way to become more economically self-sufficient, and many are entering or returning to college with the goal of working toward a degree to support themselves and their families — yet when they arrive on campus, they often find little support or resources available to nurture, encourage and sustain them in their efforts,” Norris said.

For those reasons, the objectives of “Project Linking Lives” are threefold.

It will offer a series of workshops — such as the one on Thursday — and culminate with the Transitions Conference, which is set for later in the spring and includes invitations for experts from other colleges and universities in the area to participate.

Secondly, a Nontraditional Student Mentoring Center will be created on campus, where entering nontraditional students will be mentored by peers and resources and services will be available to the campus’s entire nontraditional student population. It is temporarily being housed in the TTU Women’s Center while a permanent location is being secured.

Finally, the topics presented at the Transitions Conference will be recorded, compiled and combined with additional resources from the mentoring center to create a Nontraditional Student Survival Manual to be given to all incoming nontraditional students.

“We expect this project to have a significant impact on TTU’s female nontraditional student population,” Norris said. “The success of this project will enable more women to successfully complete their degree work, which will directly translate into greater economic self-sufficiency for women of the Upper Cumberland region.”

Norris added that the leadership experience being gained by the female nontraditional students who make up the project’s team is equally important.

“The goals of this work, and the means by which to achieve these goals, have been determined by the women who are currently facing the challenges. They are the heart and soul of this project,” she said.

For more information about “Project Linking Lives” or about the round-table discussion set for Thursday, call Norris at 931/372-6220.