The 'School of Second Chances' at Saint Peter’s University

By Angeline Boyer, Assistant Director of Media Relations, Saint Peter’s University

A Saint Peter's adult learner takes a study break in the Mac Mahon Student Center (photo by Saint Peter’s University)

A Saint Peter's adult learner takes a study break in the Mac Mahon Student Center (photo by Saint Peter’s University)

“A sight to humble and inspire Saint Peter’s students may be seen on Tuesday and Thursday evenings here at the College. People of all ages from 18 to 74, from all walks of life, longshoreman and nun, steamfitter and actress, patrolman, butcher, undertaker, laborer, teacher… all flocking to Saint Peter’s Adult Education Courses.” 

This quote was taken from an article published in the Pauw Wow, the Saint Peter’s University student newspaper, on February 13, 1953. It references the then-College's first Adult Education Program, which opened in January 1953 with 445 students enrolled.

The article goes on to say, “Numerous reasons were advanced as to why they were taking such courses…One man declared he was attending particularly as an example for his children. A young woman stated that she attended upon realization of how much there is to learn in comparison to what she knew, although she is considered well educated.” 

Since its inception in 1953 (under the direction of Rev. Arthur Clarke, S.J.), the program has evolved into what is now the School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS). The program has moved from offering two nights of classroom instruction to more than 100 classes at night and multiple courses online. But one thing that has not changed is the diversity of the students in the program and the reasons why they enrolled.

Today's students in the program reflect the rich diversity of the University. Most are working, single parents ranging in age from 22 to 60, but the program has actually graduated students well into their 70s! They choose to further their education for a number of reasons including family, career and a passion for learning. According to Elizabeth Kane, dean of the SPCS, “My job is the most rewarding at the University because we are truly the school of second chances for adults who could not obtain a traditional degree.”

To Set an Example for My Family
The main reason why Ameerah Dunn ’17 enrolled in the SPCS program at Saint Peter’s was her children. As a single parent raising two sons, Dunn not only wanted to provide a better life for her boys, but also to help them understand the importance of education. She says, “I wanted my sons to know that they can set any goal in life and achieve it. I excelled in the SPCS program at Saint Peter’s because I was driven to exceed my expectations. My dedication and perseverance paid off because I was able to make the Dean’s List every year. Last week, one of my sons wrote me a letter telling me how proud he is of me not only because I achieved my goal, but because I showed him how I was able to balance family and education.”

Dunn graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in business management and a minor in criminal justice. While the program benefited her professionally, it made a personal impact on her as well. She says, “I waited until my senior year to take theology...I didn’t really want to take it but it was mandatory for graduation. In the course, I was given an assignment to write a paper on an inspirational teacher and I chose Mahatma Gandhi. One of his quotes that stood out to me was, ‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’ I always thought I was a strong woman until I read that quote. It motivated me to reconnect with my aunt after many years. It was like a weight lifted off of my shoulders.” 

To Advance My Career
When Barbara Armstrong ’09 came to Saint Peter’s in 2005 to pursue a degree in the SPCS public policy program, she was already working as a resource specialist for Easterseals, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for people of all ages and levels of ability to achieve their full potential. She worked with the Easterseals Senior Community Services Employment Program, which provides job training and employment opportunities for senior citizens. While she had a genuine passion for helping seniors in need, she sought to enhance and enrich her knowledge of the industry.

In 2009, Armstrong graduated from Saint Peter’s with a Bachelor’s degree. Not only did she increase her salary by nearly 50 percent (and later became director of her division), she learned the tools needed to make an impact in the communities that she serves. She says, “Saint Peter’s prepared me to help these seniors. My experience there changed my life dramatically. I always think of the SPCS program as the turning point in my career. I went from having a dream to making it my reality.” 

To Feed My Passion for Learning
Donna Furina ’06, ’11 is not only a graduate of SPCS, but she currently serves as the assistant dean and advisor for the program. Furina was hired at Saint Peter’s in 2001 for a secretarial position and had a total of 27 college credits toward her Bachelor’s degree. She always loved school and desired to complete her degree, but needed an accommodating program that would work with her lifestyle as a full-time working mother of three children. She says, “The SPCS program offered me that flexible environment I needed to complete my degree. I loved the program and my professors."  

Furina graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2006 and went on to obtain her MBA at Saint Peter’s in 2011. The most valuable outcome from her experience in the program was that she was able to move out of secretarial jobs to administrative positions. Enrollment in the program not only helped Furina to advance her career, but it also provided her with a unique perspective for working with students in the program today. She says, “I can empathize with the students because I have been in their situation. I become very close to them and celebrate their milestones such as changing jobs or having babies. I always am very emotional around commencement because it is such a bittersweet time.” 

Information and archived documents referenced in this article were provided by Saint Peter's University archivist, Mary Kinahan-Ockay.