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National Non-Traditional Student Week: 'Application on top of theory'

There’s something to be said for putting a face to a name. 

Kerry Fina knows that the old adage carries some weight when an elected official steps into the classroom for discussion with his American Politics class.

And that’s exactly why the undergraduate and graduate professor – who doubles as the Master of Arts in Management advisor at Doane’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies in Lincoln – hosted Congressman Jeff Fortenberry last week.

“There’s really nothing that can replace having your government representative at the federal level in front of you, interacting with you,” said Fina, who has been with Doane since 2008 and has had Fortenberry join his class a few times before.

“I could spend 16 weeks lecturing but couldn’t have near the impact.”

It’s something that comes to mind for Fina during National Non-Traditional Student Week, which started Monday and is sponsored by the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education (ANSTHE).

Any student would benefit from these kind of opportunities, but it’s especially important to his non-traditional learners. And on a campus where they are the majority, Fina knows that his audience expects – and needs – real-world application in learning. Since non-traditional students typically come to school balancing outside obligations like families and jobs, Fina said they have a different perception of learning than traditional college students.

“With non-traditional learners, one of the things that differentiates them is they have to have a sense of what’s in it for them for what they’re learning … that we get beyond lecture and theory, and get into how does this affect you,” Fina said.

National Non-Traditional Student Week is in full swing, yet Doane’s GPS campuses in Grand Island and Lincoln celebrated early during college-wide Homecoming Oct. 6-13.

Nightly dinners celebrating non-traditional students followed during the week where food was offered for students with night classes.

Alumni came back and interacted with current students, staff and faculty.

The Lincoln campus raised money for a non-profit organization of students’ choice. 

Programming during the week was similar in Grand Island, where Campus Director Jennifer Worthington said the sentiment of celebrating the students during the week was a big part of Homecoming.

“We use the idea behind National Non-Traditional Student Week to let our students know the commitment (it) takes for them to focus on a college education,” said Worthington, who is also the advisor for undergraduate and graduate programs in Grand Island. “We know it’s a challenge, and we congratulate them for that.”

It’s a part of Doane that is special for all those involved.

Advisors, like Fina and Worthington, are with students from the day they enroll to they day they graduate. That makes for personal relationships. That makes for bonds built and nurtured by advisors who develop a sincere goal of seeing students through every step it takes to earn a degree.

It’s perfectly in line with ideals espoused by the college – and by those Fina uses to teach his courses, which – on occasion – means a visit from one of Nebraska’s members in the House of Representatives.

“It values giving our students application on top of theory,” Fina said.

Proof that the Doane is practicing what it preaches.