To say that Edward Fenner has accomplished a lot during his time at York University feels like an understatement. Edward is the mature student who founded YUMSO, revived Existere, and contributed to raising the profile of mature students across the York University campus. As a full-time York staff member and a part-time mature graduate student, Edward is a great resource for those looking to learn how to balance school, work, and life commitments. In the first part of this interview, we ask Edward to answer a few questions on being successful as a mature student.
What influenced your decision to return to university as a mature student?
I needed a degree to improve my work prospects. I was getting passed over for promotions because I didn’t have a university degree of any kind. Also, I have long wanted to prove to myself I could earn a degree. Back in the 1980s, I did two years of college at Centennial; I did okay but didn’t finish – I have always regretted that. Learning has always been enjoyable for me and I was going to turn 40 in 2004 so it was a bit of a now or never thing.
York suited me in many ways. I was attracted to its interdisciplinary nature and the opportunities to grow as a writer and explore new avenues of creativity. I started university to get a degree and then expected to move on back to the business world. York University embraced me and I’ve stayed. Today I work as a communications professional at York International.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a mature student, and how have you overcome these challenges.
The biggest challenge was balancing everything. I put a lot on my plate but managed to keep it all afloat. Fortunately, I got a lot of encouragement and support from my wife Linda. The early years were tough because there were few support mechanisms for or even much awareness of mature students across the University. Mature students just weren’t on most peoples’ radar. Fortunately, with ACMAPS and clubs like YUMSO and SASP, there are more supports available to for mature student students.
Money was very tough at times. I was working full-time when I started back at age 40. My employer was initially supportive, but I was eventually laid off. So on top of everything else, I had to look for work – any work. I found jobs here and there doing writing on contract. Other times, I reverted to my back-up job painting houses and businesses.
Brian Poser eventually hired me on contract when he was with SCLD to pull together a mature student orientation. That led to a temping stint on Campus through YUTA. Another contract at York International led me to discover a communications position at York. I’ve been there as a staff member for just over 4 years.
What are some of the ways mature students can be successful during their time at York?
Open your mind and your mouth. Ask questions, contribute to the discussion, be as good a student as you can be. Introduce yourself to your instructors. If it isn’t obvious, identify yourself as a mature student. Most professors and TAs like mature students. We listen, we participate, we do our work, we ask good and thoughtful questions and provide good and thoughtful answers, we follow the syllabus, we do the readings, we meet the deadlines, and we actually take advantage of office hours. That last one is key. Attending office hours enables you to create a good mentoring relationship with your instructor.
Mature students are just that: mature. That is why they tend to do well. We know what needs to be done and have the discipline to plot it all out and get the work done because we already have the responsibilities of work and family at home. We knuckle down and do it. Sometimes life gets in the way and you rely on people around you to help in various ways. ACMAPS and their Mature Student Mentor program can also help with other issues big or small.
Take some time for yourself, too. There are lots of free lectures by visiting scholars you can attend. There are plays, music, galleries, and so forth. The libraries and various organizations put on free workshops for all kinds of things to help you succeed as a student. Do as many as you can. Do them twice, if possible. Most of all enjoy your time as a student. It is your time, too!