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Michael Magnuson is counting down to graduation. With just six weeks left before he participates in the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh December 2009 commencement ceremony, he is keeping his fingers crossed that he’ll maintain his 3.7 GPA.

As an adult nontraditional student, parent and pastor, Magnuson balances his academics with family and work. And on top of all of the special considerations he must make due to these obligations, Magnuson is blind.

“Going back to school was not a difficult decision for me to make,” he said. “But even for a person who can see, school is difficult. To do this blindfolded, it’s even harder.”

Magnuson, who will be graduating with dual degrees in sociology and human resources, was one of 34 students inducted Nov. 6 into Alpha Sigma Lambda, the first adult nontraditional student honor society at UW Oshkosh. To be a member of the society, students must be undergraduate students seeking their first degree, enrolled in at least six credits, have at least a 3.2 cumulative GPA, have taken at least 12 liberal studies classes and have taken at least 24 credits at UW Oshkosh.

Alpha Sigma Lambda is a national honor society that recognizes adult students. The UW Oshkosh Omega Kappa chapter is the third to be granted in Wisconsin, and there are more than 300 chapters in the United States. Approximately 23 percent of UW Oshkosh students are nontraditional.

“I led the initiative for the honor society because I was looking for a way to recognize adult nontraditional students who attend school either full or part time and balance work and families while doing outstanding in their academics,” said Jennifer Stelter, associate advisor for UW Oshkosh’s Center for New Learning and president of the society.  “This honor society is another way UW Oshkosh can be a leader in recognizing and promoting adult education.”

The academic journey of an adult nontraditional student is often characterized by strong partnerships and support systems. A prime example of how these support systems help nontraditional students succeed is embodied in Mary and Lisa Nelson.

Mary and Lisa, a mother-daughter duo, made the decision to return to school together. Though they had different motivations, they share the same obstacles and triumphs. Both were inducted into the honor society.

“We took the same classes and even used each other’s books,” Mary said.

Because each is in the advanced stages of their programs – social work for Mary and nursing for Lisa – they no longer share classes.

“But we still support each other,” Lisa said. “I even called my mom once and told her I didn’t think I could do it.”

“I told her, ‘Yes, you can. Just relax, it’s going to be fine,’” Mary said.

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