August 26, 2011
TC3 adult students prepare for the classroom
Joe McIntrye/staff photographer
Mark Henline, pictured Thursday at the Tompkins Cortland Community College extension center on south Main Street in Cortland, is returning to school there.
Mark Henline figures he is starting to tie everything in his work experience together this fall semester at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
The McGraw resident owns buildings, works as a maintenance technician for a large national company — Alpla, a plastic bottle maker with a plant in the Marietta Corp. building on Central Avenue — and has worked in the machine trades.
He has been to college twice before. He spent just over one semester at SUNY Cortland, after three years in the Army out of Moravia High School. He took 21 course credits from TC3’s applied electronics program, about 15 years ago.
Both times he was in college, he decided he would rather be working.
Now Henline, 43, is aiming toward an associate’s degree in business administration.
He was one of about 40 adult students — those age 25 and older — who came to TC3’s orientation Tuesday, before the fall semester began Thursday.
The new students heard words of encouragement from Provost John Conners and fellow student Kate Basile, who enrolled at TC3 one year ago, studying for a social work degree at age 48. They were told that they have a great deal of support from the college and will be surprised at how easily they can bring their life experience to bear in the classroom.
Henline said he is not nervous at all.
“Some guys I work with are saying, ‘You really want to go to school?’ I say, ‘Yeah, I owe it to myself, I always wanted a degree,’” Henline said Thursday, sitting in the new Cortland Extension Center on south Main Street.
Henline is enrolled in four courses this fall, a four-credit accounting course and three one-credit Microsoft Office skills courses. He said he needs nine courses total to get his degree, after transferring credits from SUNY Cortland and his previous stint as a TC3 student.
His courses actually do not begin until Sept. 6. He will have four hours in the classroom per night on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, after working his shift at Alpla from 6 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
Henline said he was always a good student, earning a Regents diploma in 1985 from Moravia, despite having a wild streak and hanging out with what he calls “the wrong crowd.”
He graduated in the top 35 of about 134 students in his class, he said. But college did not interest him and he enlisted in the Army, ending up stationed in Germany.
He said his time at SUNY Cortland was spent without much direction, just taking required core courses but not declaring a major. He left to enter the workplace, enrolling in machine trade courses at the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES and then working at Gallery of Machines in Marathon.
“I always wanted to know how things worked,” he said, adding that he also likes physical work.
Henline decided to finish an actual degree because it would tie together the pieces of what he has done before, to give himself more options in the workplace. He felt that a high school diploma was not enough anymore.
He also would be the first in his family to have a college degree.
“I can draw on my experiences if I’m doing a project,” he said. “Sure, it’s a lot tougher on the younger student who doesn’t have experience and has to envision what a job is like, where I’ve seen people doing that job. Plus, a student right out of high school is in turmoil, not sure what they want to do.”
TC3 has begun a push to attract older students, creating the new Center for Adult Learning and Training, which encompasses the extension centers in Cortland and Ithaca. Conners has said the college’s overall enrollment has grown but the number of students age 25 and older has remained the same, so it is a smaller percentage. TC3 officials want adults to know what is available for them as they think about changing careers or finding work after being laid off.
Basile told her story to Henline and the other students Tuesday, saying that after graduating from high school in 1979 in the Albany area, she got married and had six sons. She thought about college after the youngest graduated from high school and one of her sons, who is in the Marines, told her there was a need for counseling people in the military.
She said she will move to North Carolina with her husband after finishing her degree this year and begin looking for work in the counseling field.
“In my time, girls were not encouraged as much to go to college,” she said.
Henline said he is unsure what will happen when he finishes his degree. He could stay with Alpla, which has sent him to Germany and Atlanta for short projects.
He owns two buildings in downtown McGraw.
He said he found the opening talks at TC3 inspirational and saw that fellow adult students were nervous about being in school again. But he is eager to start.
“I’m pretty self-reliant, kind of self-made,” he said.
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