Levi Geyer and Leslie Black, two Penn State students now going to school online, didn't follow the traditional path to college.
After he graduated high school in 2011, Geyer went away to college. But, after his first year, he was uncertain about his future. He left school, returned home to Turbotville and found work at Members Choice Financial Credit Union.
Black, who grew up in Berwick, raised her two daughters in North Carolina and worked in a variety of fields. She returned to the area six years ago and works as the assistant manager for Cole’s Hardware in Danville.
Both turned to Penn State’s online school, Penn State World Campus, to help them earn the college degree that had been missing from their lives. They’ve had to balance full-time jobs, family and personal life with homework and exams.
It’s a sacrifice they say has been worth it.
“I needed a challenge,” said Black, who is 55 and lives in Bloomsburg. “I’m having a great experience. I’ve got a goal in mind, and I’m not going to let anything stop me.”
Starting something new
Black’s and Geyer’s employers are members of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce. That means they receive a 5 percent tuition reduction on Penn State World Campus courses.
Black’s motivations for pursuing her degree were personal fulfillment and family. She’s surrounded by family members who are also working on college degrees: One of her sisters is in her early 50s and in law school. Another sister is working on her graduate degree in criminal justice. And her youngest daughter just graduated from Temple University and will enroll in a program to get her registered nurse diploma.
“So many of the women in our family aren’t sitting around,” Black said. “It’s very inspiring.”
Black’s journey toward her college degree started in January. She took three courses — English rhetoric and composition, psychology and a grammar course required for certain communications majors.
Time management and organization were important right off the bat. She synced her calendar to her cellphone, tablet and laptop so deadlines and assignments were at her fingertips.
One of the assignments in the English class, writing a proposal, gave her the chance to combine her job, her schoolwork and one of her interests — marketing. She drafted a proposal about how her company could use its social media accounts to engage customers and position the family-owned chain as an important piece of the fabric of the communities where they are located.
She interviewed one of the owners’ sons as part of the research process, and while chatting, she said she’d send the proposal to the higher-ups if she did really well.
She kept her promise.
“I got an A,” she said, with a laugh.
This summer, she’s enrolled in biology and Spanish 1. She said the biology course is coming easy to her, and she’s doing better than she expected in Spanish, which she took in high school. In Spanish, she gets face-to-face time with her classmates because they are required to record a conversation in the language via video conferencing. It’s given them a chance to see one another, an experience that she said is an added bonus for online education.
To make things work, Black completes her readings and assignments before and after work at Cole’s, which sometimes is as many as 50 hours a week. She’ll study on the weekends, and because she just needs a computer and Internet access, she was able to keep up with her classes while visiting her grandchildren in Philadelphia for a week in July.
Her family members have been her biggest supporters. When she couldn’t spend Easter with either of her daughters because she worked the Saturday before the holiday and had to finish an assignment, they understood.
“I’m spending Easter Sunday finishing up a paper,” Black said. “My daughter said, ‘I’m proud of you.’”
Making it work
Geyer, like Black, has support as he marches toward his goal of completing the bachelor’s degree in finance he started in August 2015.
The 23-year-old is living at home with his parents while he works and goes to school online. He works at the Members Choice FCU on St. Mary’s Street in Lewisburg in the daytime and concentrates on his classes at night. It makes for a full schedule, but he doesn’t regret it.
“I just have to make it work,” said Geyer, who took four courses, or 12 credits, in his first semester and 13 credits worth of courses in the spring 2016 semester. “It’s one of those things — it’s up to me to find the motivation to do it. I find myself a routine and go with it.”
Geyer said he’s a fan of the free online tutoring available to World Campus students.
“I’m a religious user of Tutor.com — if I don’t use it every week, I use it every other week,” he said. “It’s been really helpful.”
Geyer has also taken advantage of his proximity to State College — about 70 miles. One day, he visited State College and got to meet his adviser, Donna Anderson. On another visit, he had his photo taken for his Penn State student ID card.
“I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” he said. “Being an online student with a picture on your ID, that’s kind of cool.”
He’s not yet sure what he’ll do when he graduates, which he expects to be sometime in the next few years, but he sees himself working in a city.
As for Black, she’s not ruling out anything.
“By the time I’m done, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to start something else,” she said.