Emily Orrson | Helping LPS students work it


The Half of It | Professors should be more accommodating of students who work full time


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Emily Orrson
The Half of It

Photo by Emily Orrson


As if on cue, a barrage of midterms and papers have assaulted campus. Wouldn’t it be nice, whilst contemplating the ethical dilemmas in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” to have a former lawyer in your class? And wouldn’t it be helpful, in the throes of Marketing 101, to have a data analyst on your team?

Thanks to the College of Liberal and Professional Studies, these things can happen.

LPS offers undergraduate and graduate classes and degrees to over 800 nontraditional college students. Many of these students work full-time as sculptors, graphic designers, small-business owners and financial service representatives, to name a few.

These students bring a diverse perspective and practicality to the classroom. As Deb Burnham, the associate undergraduate chair of English, explained, “they add perspective because they have experience, and they can see nuances very often where younger people might not. They can see connections.”

Dave Bieber, LPS’s executive director, echoed this point. “Working students returning to education bring with them not just their curiosity and enthusiasm, but they bring a sense of worldly wisdom into the classroom that can be shared with others,” he said.

But it’s not always easy for these students to get into the classroom.

My roommate, LPS student Amy Holihan, who is a full-time dancer at the Pennsylvania Ballet, couldn’t find a class this semester that would fit her 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. work day. It’s hard to predict when rehearsals run over or when traffic will slow the commute back to Penn, she explained.

Holihan approached four different professors in September, none of whom would accommodate the possibility that she would be 10-15 minutes late on occasion and might have to miss class to attend extended rehearsals during the week of a production.

According to Bieber, it’s up to individual lecturers to determine how flexible they are with tardiness or absences. But in a world where a typical workday runs 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., why aren’t instructors more understanding? And why aren’t LPS courses offered later in the evening?

Sure, some professors, like Burnham, are more accommodating. “If somebody’s late for a good reason, I just deal with it,” she said. “Life happens.” But LPS students still have to navigate a maze of requirements and class schedules largely on their own. While each student is assigned an advisor, it’s unclear how helpful (or available) they are.

LPS students Lily DiPiazza and Elizabeth Mateer have never met their advisor in person, despite having spent two and four years in the program, respectively.

One LPS student, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, disclosed that her advisor told her to transfer out of Penn, after she expressed difficulty in finding classes to fit her schedule.

Bieber recognized that the kinds of courses offered in the evening are limited. However, “we try to do the best that we can to provide opportunities to take the general requirements,” he said, adding that “some of the more specific electives, we have to ask students to take during the day.”

There are some good solutions in the pipeline. This semester, oceanography professor Jane Dmochowski is putting all of her lectures online and meeting with her LPS class every other week — an option much more convenient for working students.

In September, a group of LPS students launched the Penn LPS Student Association. President Cory Boatwright said the group hopes to “advocate for LPS students, to support them in whatever it is that they may need and to create a networking environment where we can come together as a group.”

One of LPSSA’s goals is to create a student advisory board within the LPS program, “so that we can help shed a little light on any policy making, so they know where we’re coming from,” he added.

In any case, Penn professors: be more accommodating of LPS students. They’re an element of what makes our school so diverse. And then Boatwright, who used to work in the Air Force, can help us with our World at War papers.

Emily Orrson is a College senior from Baltimore, Md. Her email address is eorrson@gmail.com. The Half of It appears every other Wednesday. Follow her @schmemily1.

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