“Back off, the ‘old guy’ is ours!”

Group work and projects are a very common part of classwork in most courses in the college world today, particularly in any business/marketing programs. Since I’m a Marketing major, this is pretty much the norm for every class. It’s not one of my favorite items about college, but it has permitted me to be part of some really interesting groups and work with some really interesting people.

Forming groups in a university setting is like the college version of getting picked for the dodge-ball teams from grade school. The professor usually states what the project going to entail and then says, “OK you have 10 minutes to form your groups”. What? This is where panic sets in. I don’t know these kids. Damn, no one is gonna pick me. I’m going to be stuck with ‘stinky Steve and that other new kid that takes the sniffs his erasers’, as I thought back to my grade-school days.

Now this was my first marketing class (Market Research) and first 300 level course, at my new university after earning my associates from the community college the previous spring. The professor conducts all the normal first day stuff and then proceeds to inform us about the semester long group project that will be 1/3 of our overall grade. She states that the project will be dealing with researching and developing a new produce related item or improving an existing produce item that you would find in any local grocery store. Hot Damn! What luck.

OK, side bar your honor… More background on me. I spent 20+ years in the grocery industry. I just thought I hit the jackpot! I have something to offer, I am valuable, thinking to myself. I started to feel really good about this. OK, think fast, how do I let everyone know my credentials? How do I ‘market’ myself to this ‘kids’? Yes, the introductions, I’m home free. The smart kids will come running after I divulge my work history.

It’s going to be a good day Tatar! (Ron White, stand-up comedian, look it up, love the part with his bulldog Sluggo, hilarious!).

Introductions start, I know exactly what to say. As we move through the class, I’m practicing my lines in my head, making sure not to sound too arrogant, but present myself where they will all look past the ‘old guy’ image and want me to be part of their team. OK, I’m next, be cool Mark, I got this. In a very calm relaxed voice, without sounding too confident, I went for it, “Hi, I’m Mark, non-traditional student, first semester here at ‘mid-level state university’, returning to school after being laid off twice in 3 years to pursue my bachelor’s degree. I have about 30 years in the food and beverage industry, with 23 years of the 30 in the grocery industry in various positions. I’m married for 17 years, with 3 teenage boys.” Yes, nailed it. Just then the professor responds, “Wow, I guess you are going to be in high demand for this group project, everyone should consider Mark for your group”. She didn’t just say that. Great, thanks mom dropping off my lunch, kissing me on the forehead in front of all my guy friends, and embarrassing me to no end. I felt like the teachers ‘pet’ on day one, I’m doomed. Stinky Steve and eraser kid wait for me, here I come!

Introductions conclude, let the group picking torture begin. I just sat there in my own misery letting fate present my future. Groups were forming all around me and just going to deal with whoever was left. Heh, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get, forget where I heard that once. Just as I was going to accept what the ‘group forming gods’ were going to give me, two young coeds approached me (again, get your mind out of the gutter). As they approached, I heard a guy in the row behind me loudly whisper to one of the coeds “no one’s got him yet, hurry up!”. What? In a slightly nervous voice one of the coeds asks me, “Heh, Mark right, would you want to be in our group for the project?” This is where ‘idiot Mark’ came out, my respond “who else is in the group?” Like I had a boatload of choices and holding out for the highest bidder. What was I thinking. I blew it.

My response didn’t faze them, thank God. Without hesitation they pointed out the 3 other guys in the group, I looked at them and each one, particularly the one sitting in the row behind me had the same look. The look was like a state of suspended wonder as if to say ‘please say yes old guy’. I turn back to the coeds and said sure, OK. Gave them my contact info, all was good, I guess. What happened next was what sealed the deal for me.

With my head down looking for my reading glasses, I heard one the two coeds say, “we got him” to the guy in the row behind me. A gleeful response of “YES” was elated behind me. Angela and Karen (not real names) introduce themselves, collecting my info, they thanked me, said they would be in touch. They turned around walked away and gave each other a very small, but noticeable, fist pump to each other (girl style). Two other coeds where making a bee line towards me. In a very possessive but reassuring tone Karen headed them off, “Yo, back off, the ‘old guy’ is ours!”.

Yes, I have arrived. I guess.

All five were great to work with that semester. I learned a lot that semester from both my group-mates and the material in the course. I would have another great experience with one of the group members in a future class, more on that later.


Lasting Thought: Don’t short change yourself. Realize that you have something to offer to others. Find out what that is and use it to promote yourself. Everyone has value and can be valuable to someone somewhere. We just need to pull back the current sometimes to see what opportunities are out there.

Posted in Dealing with classmates, First Days, Group Work, In The Classroom, Lasting Thoughts, Professors | 9 Comments

Want friends! Look for someone in your demographic…

Want friends! Look for someone in your demographic…

Being the ‘new kid’ in class is always tough, but even more difficult if you are old enough to be everyone’s parent! Most first days of class are ‘introduction days’ where everyone tells their story/situation. Pay extra attention to those who either look close in age to you or older than the other ‘kids’ in class. Go up to them after class and introduce yourself. Trust me, they are just as scared as you are. It’s easier to make a friend/study partner with these classmates then the other ‘kids’ in class. Even if it is someone to just commiserate over coffee every now and then. These are the classmates that will most likely understand what you are going through. And chances are it will help you not feel so alone on campus.

Posted in TCDE Tips & Advice, Tips | 1 Comment

“Are You The Professor?”

My second semester in my reboot college career was starting off pretty good. With one full semester under my belt I was feeling more confident about my choice to return to school. Even though I didn’t really make any sold friendships I was becoming more comfortable being around my classmates who were mostly between the ages of 18 and 20 years. Even though I was still a little apprehensive to start a conversation with them, my confidence was growing day by day realizing that we are all there for the most part to earn an education.

Starting a conversation with someone I didn’t know was somewhat easy for me with my sales experience. I was the one who primarily initiated conversation at school, other than the professor teaching the class. Most of the time the ‘kids’ in the class just looked at me with the ‘what’s the old guy doing here?’ gaze. But all that would change on the second day of my first ‘spring’ semester. Before I continue, I feel I need to describe my physical self. I am a 6-foot, 235 lb., white, male, bald (greying), with a goatee in his mid-forties. It was a pleasantly surprised when follow happen to me.

It was the first day of class for a micro economics class in one of those cinder block classrooms. I sat down toward the front of the classroom and started to get out a notebook and pen. Then I heard this voice from a perky young co-ed (get you mind out of the gutter) ask me the following question, “Are you the professor?” I was stymied, I was literally lost for words. But after a few seconds, I answered, “No, I am not”. Without thinking I asked back, “why do you ask?” as if I didn’t realize what I looked like. She then proceeded to tell me the following in a quick gossipy teenage girl tone…

“Well, my friend Jessica told me that she heard that there is this older professor that likes to dress up like he is a college student on the first day of class. He sits in the class like he’s a student and then this creep tries to find out what the students know or think about him, the school, and like all that other stuff. Don’t you think that’s weird? I mean that’s pretty sneaky and cruel. Why would anyone do that? That’s real jerky, don’t ya think? I mean really, get a life!”

Jackpot! I couldn’t pass this up!

“Really, wow, yes that is odd. Why would someone do that?” in my hope she did not notice her flaw. “I know, what an a-hole!”  she responded. I glanced at the clock over her shoulder, its 5 minutes past the official start time and no professor. This is too good to be true. Am I really going to do this, yes, I am. We proceeded to exchange a little more about this “jerk, creep, a-hole” of a professor. Every statement for me encouraging her to just keep going. She continued to trash this professor and educate me to “be aware” of some of these professors on how they are all against the students and try to make college life so difficult for them. She looks like she just had a ‘sweet 16’ birthday party last weekend, and she is lecturing me, OK, sure, whatever. At about 9 minutes late I politely stopped and then went for it…

“I really appreciate the advice and sorry to stop you, but I need to get the class started”, then a perplexing look appeared on her face. I stood up to get out of my seat and proceeded to walked up to the front of class. She looked like she was going to die. What was going through her mind, I will never know, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. She definitely was panic sickened. I throughout my soda can in the trash can at the front of the room and as I turned the real professor enter the room and apologized for being late. As I sat back down in my seat, the panic faced turn into bewilderment. My response to her as I sat back down, “Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity”, and then realized how much fun I could have amongst these millennials.

It took a few classes, but we did talk about what transpired between her and I that first day. She realized her mistake, understood why I did what I did and forgave me, thank God. We did become so-so friends and did helped each other out on some homework assignments. And yes, we both were able to laugh about it in time, me more than her.


Lasting Though: In the college word, and in the real world as well, be careful who and what you say to someone until you know who you are exactly talking to. Without thinking you just may impact your future in a way that you didn’t intend to.

Posted in Dealing with classmates, First Days, In The Classroom, Lasting Thoughts, Professors | 3 Comments

First Day, First Class, First ‘What Am I Doing Here?’

Picture it, a beautiful late summer day in suburbia where a bright eyed 40 something returning to college after 27 years. I was crapping my pants. What the hell was I thinking. Here I am attending community college to start the reboot of my failed college career almost 3 decades ago, surrounded by 18 and 19-year old’s. And what is my first class, Critical Writing. Hell, I can barely write a thank you note, now I must think about what to write and put some serious thought into it. I’m screwed.

8am first thing Monday morning, OK let’s do this. Sitting there in a cinder block classroom, it felt like a jail cell. In walks the professor. Oh boy, he looks like a 60’s left over in khakis, a button down plaid long sleeve shirt with a Jerry Garcia knock-off tie, glasses and with semi-unkempt hair. As he passed by me I thought I got a whiff of stale Jack Daniels, found out later, that was his cologne.

Now Professor ‘M’ proceeds to tell us that we are going to introduce ourselves and tell our story, who we are, what’s our major, and what was the last writing class we took and WHERE? Are you freaking kidding me? What? Where? I’m going to be a big laugh for everyone. “Hi, I’m Mark, my last writing class was High School Composition 4 with Sister Margret in 12th grade 27 years ago”. Yep, this was going to be the shortest college career comeback in history. I can see the headline now, “Bald Man Dies First Day Back In School”.

Now I didn’t realize this until he started to pick on the students all around me to tell their information, but I am literally sitting in the middle of the classroom. Then I notice that he decided to start at the back of the room and proceed to pick students one by one all around me in a circular pattern. Yes, he was leaving me for last. The tension that was building inside me was becoming unbearable, my palms were getting sweaty, and my heart was racing. Do I tell the truth, lie, somewhere in-between? Gulp!

“And you sir, what’s your story”, as he pointed at me while I was caught up in my own panic attack. 10 seconds complete silence. I looked at him, he looked at me, gave me a double look, as if to say, “dude, what’s up with you?”. I took a deep breath and said the following in a serious voice, “My name is Mark, I am a college dropout returning to school after 20-some years, I know I took an English class of some sort my senior year in high school that no longer exists from a nun who is most likely dead and think I got a C”. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? As I thought to myself, that’s not totally true. I’m screwed. Then I get the polite head nod from Prof ‘M’ and he says to me “See me after Class”. Oh Shit, I’m done, busted!

After class Prof ‘M’ and I proceed to have a conversation one on one. He saw that I was nervous as can be. He told me to relax, to calm down, and just be myself. He proceeded to talked me off the ledge. Prof ‘M’ want to just assure me that all is well and not to worry. He explained that he was pleased to see a non-tradition student in his early class (other than night classes) because of the subjects that would be covered in class (more on that later). His thoughts were to have someone other than he tell the story from time to time with a different perspective since I lived through most of them. I agreed in an unassuring tone, and thought “wow, that’s not how I thought it was going to go, cool.”  That conversation was the start of some great dialog between he and I that semester. More from this class and Prof ‘M’ later.

That conversation was one of the best things that happened to me in my college career and it will stick with me forever.

Thanks Professor ‘M’.


Lasting Thought: Make sure you have all the facts before making judgement on anything. It’s OK, from time to time, to make a quick assessment, but don’t let that be your final thought. Be flexible, be open to new information and ideas, don’t rush to judge.

Posted in Dealing with classmates, First Days, In The Classroom, Lasting Thoughts, Professors, Tips | 8 Comments

Welcome to The College Dad Experience

I went back to college for my mid-life crisis. This is a collecting of real-life stories of a 40 something returning to college full-time. Here is the background story…

My first attempt attending college was directly out of high school at the age of 17. I wanted to be an architect.  Mike Brady and Elyse Keaton made being an architect look cool (millennials look up Brady Bunch and Family Ties). After two years of trying to be a full time student and working 30+ hours a week to pay for it, the journey ending. I was a college dropout.

Fast-forward to the year 2015. Picture this, a 40 something married father of three teenage boys gets laid-off twice in 3 years. With unemployment running out and limited job prospects, I decided to return to college after 27 years. Yes, I would be attended college, full-time, with millennials just a few years older than my oldest son. Good times ahead, lets party! Thoughts of frat parties and getting asked to get beer for my house brothers started to enter my mind. But reality would soon set in, and yes, I was wrong.

My trek for my bachelor’s degree started at a local community college. After receiving my Associates in Business Administration, I then transferred to a mid-level state university to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. Every day was a new adventure, a new story, and new acquaintances. I was not only a fish out of water, I was a fish swimming in a strange new pond.

My goal here is to share my experiences, from time to time, to maybe help someone my age that is thinking of going back to college, or already in school. But most of all, I’m just trying to share a few laughs along the way.

These are The College Dad Experiences…

Posted in Welcome | 8 Comments