Linda ochoa holding a framed portrait of her young son

‘Non-traditional’ students excel with dedication, mentors

Growing up as the oldest of three sisters in a Salvadoran family, Linda Ochoa learned the meaning of hard work and responsibility early in her life.

While raising her son and working full time, Ochoa attended Montgomery College, then transferred to Towson University. She graduates this May with a degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. A recipient of the James L. Dunbar Memorial Scholarship and the Aramark Working Scholars Endowment Scholarship, she is looking at a bright future that she plans to dedicate to teaching and academic research in the field of marketing.

CBE faculty and staff take pride in serving non-traditional students like Ochoa. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), non-traditional students include (but are not limited to) those who work full time while enrolled, those who have dependents other than a spouse, and those who either do not have a high school diploma or entered college more than a year after they finished high school. In contrast, traditional students include those who are 18 to 22, enroll immediately after high school, attend school full-time, live on campus, and do not have major work or family responsibilities.

“Having these professors who genuinely showed that they believed in me made all the difference. They offered support and became mentors to me.”

Unlike many of their classmates, non-traditional students often face unique challenges.

“The biggest challenge was probably be finding a balance between school and family,” said Ochoa. “Sometimes it felt as if there weren’t enough hours in the day.”

The extra responsibilities non-traditional students have also means they cannot spend as much time on extracurricular activities and interacting with their classmates.

“As much as I wanted to join clubs, it was a challenge, since I usually had to get home to feed my son and help him with his homework,” she said.

At CBE, our faculty try their best to help non-traditional students like Ochoa become well prepared for the next stage of their life.

“TU has an incredible marketing department, and the support of the faculty has truly made my graduation possible,” Ochoa said, adding that professors Veronica Thomas, Pd.D., Plamen Peev, Ph.D., and Dr. Tony Stovall, Ph.D., were instrumental in her success at TU. “Having these professors who genuinely showed that they believed in me made all the difference. They offered support and became mentors to me.”

“Dr. Thomas opened her doors to me even when I was not her student and would offer me counsel and advice,” Ochoa said. “There was one day this past semester when I was having a momentary breakdown about my future and I stopped by her office. I could tell she was busy prepping for a conference, so I told her I would come back. She insisted that I take a moment and stay. It’s as if she knew I needed her in that moment.”

With CBE’s culture of inclusiveness, many students appreciate the experience and perspective of their non-traditional peers.

“[My classmates] could tell that I took my studies seriously. They acknowledged that I was more mature and that only made me a better team member,” Ochoa said. “I think that I met these types of students because TU truly has quality students.”

In addition to the support and resources available from CBE, many other programs are well established at Towson University to help non-traditional students like Ochoa. The Center for Student Diversity sponsors the Mature Students Lunch and Peer Support Group, which meets every month. There are also various scholarship funds available for mature students such as the Charlotte W. Newcombe Endowed Scholarship for Mature Women and Men, the Pathways Scholarship, and the Osher Reentry Scholarship.

Ochoa said that she is very satisfied with her achievements at Towson University and is “proud to be an alumna of such an inclusive university.” She plans to travel with her son for the summer, wanting him to experience new cultures. She is also looking forward to being accepted into a PhD program, where she will seek the training to become a professor of marketing herself and to continue her research.

Feeling confident about her future, Ochoa added, “I feel blessed that I am able to [graduate] not only with a diploma but also with three supportive mentors and excellent faculty and staff that I will keep in touch with.”

By Yongchen Zhao, Ph.D., Department of Economics

This story is a part of the colleges monthly CBE Celebrates Diversity Series, which highlights student, faculty and staff stories from our diverse community.