Professionals returning to school later in life

April 2, 2010 5:08:29 PM PDT
The tough economy is forcing some people to make tough choices. More mid-career professionals are finding themselves back in the classroom. Sometimes they're changing fields. Sometimes they're enhancing existing careers. But going back to school later in life, is becoming the new normal. At age 55, James DuPuis is reinventing himself.

"I like the drafting," he said. "I like putting stuff together."

After spending half of his life in advertising he was ready for a change and went back to school at Houston Community College to get a certificate in drafting.

"It's not always the economy," DuPuis said. "You get tired of a job and you want to move on, find something that will pique your interest, keep you motivated."

Of course DuPuis is not the only one making that choice. There are a lot of people on a lot of college campuses who are going about the business of starting a second career. For some, the choice is not initially theirs.

HCC graduate Gloria Carmona explained, "I went back to school when I was laid off from the banking industry."

Carmona was a banker for 35 years before going back to school and switching to piping design. She's now working in her new field.

"Don't be afraid to try and find something else," Carmona advised. "There is always something else out there."

Sometimes that something else might be in the same career. Pamela McConathy has always worked in public relations. She still does but is back in school at the University of Houston learning how to adapt to change.

McConathy said, "Change is part of our daily life, especially in business. You have to be aware of changes and you have to anticipate change."

"It's become the new normal, as they say now," said U of H Associate Professor Peter Bishop. "It's really a new condition where you're going to have a career for maybe 10 to 15 years, but you're going to have to have a transition time and school can help in that transition."

That's the case with Frank Eichstadt, a space architect who's back in school to use his experience in the field for a better understanding in the classroom. He's hoping to mentor younger students while gaining a fresh perspective.

"Fresh eyes on a problem gives you a new way of looking at things," Eichstadt said. "I'm kind of hoping to pick up some new skills as well, kind of brush up my skills."

That's the same way James DuPuis views his new chosen path as he prepares to graduate this summer.

"Now I can't find a better thing to do," he said. "I don't know why I didn't go back to school sooner."

The trend has helped push enrollment at Houston Community College to a record high. So far this spring, more than 70,000 students have enrolled at HCC campuses. If the trend continues, it could reach 72,000.


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