by Rachel Remington
The first female locomotive mechanic west of the Mississippi river, and the previous owner of a hypnotherapy practice for 10 years, Aryn Whitewolf, 59, is finally coming back to school to finish a degree she started 30 years ago.
Whitewolf is one out of 145 students at Whatcom Community College in the Age 50 + Student Success Program. The program was created to support students over 50 because they have educational, emotional, and financial needs that differ from those of the average college student.
Kristi Slette, student success coordinator at Whatcom, and the founder of the program, pointed out that one of the biggest concerns that older students have is maintaining their financial stability while attending school. Most of them have a life full of financial responsibilities, like families to take care of, or houses with payments to keep up on.
Slette works with students to find ways to fund their schooling, such as helping them receive scholarships, or finding them “survival jobs” so they have enough money to pay for school on top of their other finances.
Some students are returning to school because they have lost the jobs they’ve had for a long time, and need help in building the confidence they need to find more work. Slette helps students by working to make them more presentable to employees, and preparing them for interviewing.
One of the greatest benefits of working with older students, Slette said, is that they love being back in school and learning new things, and have a great thirst for knowledge. “They’re here mostly because they love the value of learning,” said Slette.
Many students want to reinvent themselves, or find a new career path with a social purpose. Whitewolf has had a wide range of careers, but she wants to expand her abilities in things she might’ve not tried before, like improving her art skills and finding ways to make them useful in her life.
Whatcom’s older students are pleased to be back in school, despite the hardships of returning to school after such a long time. “It’s not easy back with an older brain because it’s a lot harder to absorb material,” said Whitewolf. Students want to be supported in their challenges, and want to be accepted by younger college students.
Whitewolf is among many who hope to get the most out of coming back to school, and appreciate the help they get so they can make the best of the experience. “When I’m done, I can say I did it to the best I can,” said Whitewolf.
Students over 50 can contact Kristi Slette at: