'Graduation Project' helps bring students back to finish degrees

January 31 2007

Amelia Phillips studies in the commuter lounge in ISU's Hulman Memorial Student Union.
Amelia Phillips has many dreams: to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, to graduate college and to become a teacher.

As a 34-year-old mother of two Phillips knows her dreams sometimes have to take a backseat to her family. But with the help of Indiana State University, it's Phillips's turn to accomplish all she ever dreamed of.

Phillips began her college career at Eastern Illinois University, while living in her hometown of Marshall, Ill. She studied early childhood education with a minor in Spanish. Early in her studies, she changed her major to Spanish.

Before she could complete her degree, though, life got in the way. Phillips was pleasantly surprised with her son, Todd Wyatt, now 6 years old.

In 2004, after moving to Terre Haute, Phillips transferred to Indiana State to take a refresher course in Spanish. Around that time, the birth of her second child, Ava, interrupted her dreams of completing her degree.

"After Ava came, I thought, I have got to do this now or I�m not going to do this," she said.

But Phillips needed an extra push to get her back to school. Heather Mosbarger, coordinator of commuter services in ISU�s Office of Enrollment Services, gave her just that.

Funded by an anonymous endowment to the university, Mosbarger has been working to bring commuter students of senior status back to ISU to complete their degrees by offering them help in many ways. The program is called the Graduation Project.

"We've gone back and searched for former students who were seniors when they left and sent letters encouraging them to get back to ISU," Mosbarger said. "We offer them a variety of incentives, including financial assistance to pay for parking permits, technology and recreation fee waivers, and a $250 book voucher from the ISU bookstore. They get these services for two semesters in order to help them finish their degree program and to meet their academic goals."

Phillips received a letter from ISU last summer.

Heather Mosbarger (left) of ISU Enrollment Services meets with Amelia Phillips, who is completing her degree in Spanish at ISU thanks to a program that offers incentives to students who suspended their college education while within a few credit hours of graduation.
"I read it and thought about it and contemplated it and reread it several times," she said. "I finally got in contact with Heather and found out how many credits I really did have, which made me a senior, and that�s how I got my foot in the door here. Heather�s letter really just gave me that extra umph."

In addition to assisting with financial help, Mosbarger acts as a liaison between university departments and professors to make the returning process easier and less painful for students.

Mosbarger has met with advisors, gone over transcripts and credit hours, answered questions, and explained the process of returning to ISU.

Phillips said she greatly appreciates all Mosbarger has done to help her get back to school, but the parking pass waiver really tops the cake.

"Homework here is the hardest, but the really hardest thing is the parking!" she said. "So it was really a blessing for the parking tag."

Now Phillips is a senior, majoring in Spanish. She goes to school part-time, while maintaining her job at L.J. Michael"s Real Estate in Terre Haute. She hopes to graduate in December.

But graduating from the university is not Phillips"s only dream. She has always wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. Now that she' s back at ISU, she is making that dream a reality, as well.

"For those who want to study abroad, my advice is don't plan it for one day, because that one day for me turned into a month, then it turned into years, then it turned into several years," Phillips said. "Now I have a mortgage, and I have two children, and I don't really know when that one day will be."

That was until she found a three-week study-abroad program in Mexico where she is able to bring her children with her.

"It's not really your dream, or what you anticipated," she said. "But at this point, I will still be able to study abroad. I'm already teaching my son Spanish."

Mosbarger understands how difficult it can be for students to return to college after being gone for many years. In fact, it took her many years to finally complete her undergraduate degree, also from ISU.

"These students are so close to reaching their goals. It is incredible that I can help them do that," she said. "I understand how difficult it can be to finish an undergraduate degree proram because I struggled to do so."

Currently, Mosbarger is helping 10 students through the Graduation Project and has sent another batch of letters to potential students.

Mosbarger also knows how great the feeling can be when students finally accomplish their academic goal. She completed her master�s degree in the fall of 2006.

Phillips now understands that feeling, thanks to Mosbarger.

"I just feel like I really, really earned something."

Contact: Heather Mosbarger, Indiana State University, coordinator of commuter services, (812) 237-8639, hvertrees@indstate.edu

Writer: Megan Anderson, media relations intern, Indiana State University,(812) 237-3773, manderson13@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

The "Graduation Project" is bringing back students who left college within a few credit hours of completing their degrees and helping them realize their dreams. The project, funded by an anonymous donor, provides a variety of incentives,including financial assistance, to eligible returning students.

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