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Non-traditional students get acclimated to Carbondale

Submitted by Carbondale Times on

Sean McGahan
Carbondale Times

After years of raising her four children in Chicagoland, Carla Childs is ready to make Carbondale her permanent home.

A self-described “SIU stalker,” Childs said she is starting to reap the fruits of her laborious years in community college spent getting ready to transfer to her dream university. Since hearing about SIU and Carbondale from an SIU alum adviser at her community college years ago, she was waiting for the moment she and her children could call Carbondale home.

Her dream came true earlier this month when she moved her family into a home at Evergreen Terrace and began attending classes as a criminal justice major.

“My heart was set on SIU, and when I got here it was everything I imagined,” Childs said. “I really want this to be my home. So I jumped in feet first, and I’ve been swimming ever since.”

Childs is one of many SIU students and Carbondale residents who identify themselves as “non-traditional” students. It’s a classification that includes people who are financially independent, delayed entry into college for one reason or another, are parents, served in the military or other factors, according to SIU’s Non-Traditional Student Services website.

Non-traditional students, especially those with children, often have different concerns and interests than the average incoming student, said Kathy Hollister, assistant director of SIUC Recreational Sports and Services.

For this reason, Hollister’s department and a host of other campus and community groups came together to organize an informational picnic held Saturday at Evergreen Park, adjacent to the family housing at Evergreen Terrace.

Represented at the picnic were a variety of agencies with resources parents new to the area can use, such as the public library, health department and park district. Several Registered Student Organizations to help parents were also on hand, such as the SIU Single Parent Group and the SIU Student American Dental Hygienist Association.

As Childs walked from table to table with her young daughters, she said she achieved a lot. She had information to sign her daughters up for Girl Scouts and her 13-year-old son for the Boys and Girls Club.

“When we talked about moving down here, that was one of the first things (the four children) said was, ‘What about our friends?’ So to have these resources to help them socialize is important,” Childs said.

Eight-year-old Corey Barnes, a third-grader at Unity Point, said he enjoyed the games set up for the children at the fair. Barnes lived in Carbondale briefly as a young child before his mother, Katrina Jones, earned her bachelor’s degree in 2006.

Jones moved the family back to Carbondale from Oswego last week to pursue her master’s degree in higher education.

Barnes was one of many children running around the park Saturday from station to station. One table that particularly caught his eye was a table covered in dead animal fur and skin.

As the 8-year-old lifted up a skunk hide, he got educated on one of the main differences between his new home and old one – the geography.

Beth Dorgay, an Americorps VISTA volunteer for the Shawnee National Forest, taught children and parents about the unique scenery and animals that surround them in Carbondale that they won’t get anywhere else.

Dorgay said she has lived in Southern Illinois for nine months and enjoys teaching children — especially about the environment all around them.

“It’s amazing how many people have even lived here their whole lives and never been out to the forest,” she said.

Hollister said the picnic was simply an introduction of all of the services offered for non-traditional students at SIUC. She encouraged anyone who wanted further information to e-mail her at

Childs admitted she was probably more prepared for the move to Carbondale than a “traditional” student. Because SIU was her dream, she constantly checked different department websites, signed up for classes months in advance – basically becoming an “SIU stalker,” she said with a laugh.

So when she received a call from student advisers asking how her transition was going, she appreciated it but told them she was already ahead of the game, she said.

“As non-traditional students, we’re a majority of the time already organized people,” she said. “The only thing is I wish I had a packet, because I felt sort of like, ‘Where do I start? Where do I begin? Where’s Wal Mart?’ Things like that.”

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