Diane Akers ’86 started her college education at Virginia Western Community College. Victor Rice ’00 began at Virginia Tech. Marion Vaughn-Howard started to work on her undergraduate degree in the 1960s at Saint Paul’s College and her daughter, Stacie Wright ’03, enrolled at Virginia Western two decades later. But they all finished, or plan to, at Mary Baldwin University.
“I’ve always been told to finish what you start,” said Vaughn-Howard, superintendent of youth services in Roanoke’s parks and recreation department. “My daughter was my motivation and the center here in Roanoke made it possible for me to even think about being able to work and go back to school.”
Vaughn-Howard – who plans to graduate in May – joined dozens of students, alumni, staff, and faculty this month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the college’s regional center in Roanoke. It is Mary Baldwin’s second oldest of five regional centers and offers undergraduate degrees, Post Graduate Teacher Licensure, and a Master of Arts in Teaching. Located in the Roanoke Higher Education Center alongside 15 other institutions, Mary Baldwin’s Roanoke center serves just over 290 current students and is home base for more than 575 alumni.
Each person has a unique account of adult education. They balanced work and family with homework and classes. They challenged others’ – and their own – beliefs that they were too old to be students. They went on to earn masters degrees and doctorates. They did it because there was a place close enough to home or work and flexible enough to fit their schedule.
“When we started the office in Roanoke, it was essential that people were able to pursue a degree on their schedule. It just wasn’t an option to leave the kids and let the household go,” said Lynne Lonnquist, the center’s first director. “I believe that is still true and that is why our adult degree program continues to be sought after.”
The Baldwin Online and Adult Programs at Mary Baldwin was created 28 years ago and opened its first off-campus center in Richmond in 1983. Roanoke followed soon after, accepting its first students in the summer of 1984. The addition this year of a regional center in South Boston brings the number of Mary Baldwin University centers to five, including Charlottesville and Weyers Cave.
In her remarks at the 20th anniversary celebration, President Pamela Fox referred to the regional centers as colleges within communities. “We are pleased to be here tonight to celebrate Mary Baldwin’s connection to this community,” she said. Dean of Adult and Graduate Studies Nancy Krippel, Dean of the College Jeffery Buller, and Interim Director of the Roanoke Regional Center Sharon Barnes also spoke at the event.
Graduates like Shirley Eckstein ’85, a mother who was in college at the same time as her three children, say the program opened doors to more than a formulaic career path.
“The liberal arts curriculum here was focused on expanding your mind, not just preparing you for a job. I realized quickly that I was looking at the world, and my work, in different ways and thinking about the possibilities for my life,” she said.
For more information about Mary Baldwin’s regional centers and the adult degree program, call (540) 887-7003 or visit the program’s Web site at go.marybaldwin.edu/adp .