ANDERSON — Rob Gossage was fighting his way back from homelessness.
John Zahrt had struggled with addiction.
Steven Schuyler had just returned from serving in the Navy.
Bridgette Hudson knew she had to get a degree or she’d never progress in her job.
And Dixie Mullins wanted to accomplish a goal she’d set for herself decades ago.
Each has their own story, and each took to the task of receiving a degree at Anderson University.
”People think of AU as a traditional brick-and-mortar college,” Adult Studies Director Ellen Daniels said. But, she added, the university wants to help adults get a higher education, too.
The Department of Adult Studies added seven concentrations to its Integrative Leadership major this year: criminal justice, education, exercise science, human resources, information systems, psychology and Web development. Previously, the department had only business and Christian ministry concentrations.
The added degrees “just open up the door to more possibilities,” Daniels said, as the university sees people from all walks of life.
Students who are 25 and older (or nearing their 25th birthday) can take classes in a traditional classroom setting or online. Tuition is two-thirds less than what traditional students pay. AU’s adult studies department has about 200 students currently enrolled.
Gossage, 50, had taken a year of college after high school, debated going back, but thought he’d gotten too old.
”It seemed like such an uphill climb not worth the effort,” he said.
But he accompanied a friend to check out AU’s program and decided to give it a try because he “knew education was an important step to getting where I need to go.”
Gossage had been staying in a shelter and got back on his feet by starting his own landscaping and home improvement company, God’s Truck, with a donated truck. Now he wants to help others and is majoring in Christian ministry.
”I had the experience of being homeless; God wants me to help serve others who are homeless,” said Gossage, who will graduate in December.
Zahrt, 25, had a full ride to Purdue University, where he was in the marching band. But it was a “love-hate” situation.
”I drank away my whole scholarship and got into drugs,” he said.
Eventually, Zahrt ended up in treatment, where he “got perspective on how blessed” he actually was. He has been sober for three years now.
”In the back of my head I just wanted to finish,” he said. AU was attractive to him because, as his uncle was showing him around, the staff seemed excited for him to attend.
Still taking classes in a traditional college setting, Zahrt has found that attention is more individualized at AU. When he raises his hand, a professor will stop to answer his question.
Schuyler, 24, had just come back to North Carolina after serving a six-year tour in the U.S. Navy and was “going through a really tough time in my life.”
He moved to California to go to school for screenwriting. But after just two days of classes, he realized he wasn’t where he was “supposed to be.” He ended up in Anderson to help out family and was called to ministry.
”The new me didn’t think I could be a part of the Hollywood culture,” he said.
So he went to AU, a campus with the small-town feel he had in North Carolina, and started classes on the traditional track. He also joined the rugby team, which has provided “camaraderie and brotherhood” similar to what he had in the Navy.
Schuyler will finish his degree in about a year. He has plans to become a chaplain in the Navy.
Hudson had worked at a nonprofit for about six years when an employee with a master’s degree was hired. “She could replace me,” Hudson said, so she knew it was time to finish her degree.
She saw a huge billboard and heard something on the radio about AU, so she called.
”When I called, it was like someone held my hand and sat me down in a seat,” she said, adding it was a “no-brainer” to her after she had tried other programs.
Hudson would get off work about 5 p.m. and drive from Indianapolis to Anderson for night classes. She also took some online courses to earn a degree in business.
”It was a stretch, but it was worth it,” she said, adding she’s now starting her own business.
Mullins, 47, started college after high school but dropped out after she got married and had a child.
She said finishing school was a “goal of mine” but that she kept making excuses. “My friend (who went back to school) was like, ‘What’s your excuse now?’”
Once she called AU, she didn’t have to call anywhere else because she just knew it was the right fit. Despite a hectic work load and empty-nest syndrome, she earned a degree in business.
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