"You're able to access every single person in every office. Everything being accessible is a brand-new experience for me. I've never had a bad experience with my teachers here."
After completing her first year of law school in Poland where she grew up, Adrianna Shaney '11 knew she was at a crossroads in her life.
"I really did not like the choice of law school," Shaney said. "I hated it. I wanted to study something completely different, but because [life] is so tough in Poland, my mother wanted me to be a lawyer or an architect. Because I was good in history and writing, the family decided the best thing would be for me to go to law school."
When the year came to an end, Shaney knew she would not return to studying law. She chose to settle in Baltimore because of its central location in the heart of northeast, and enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) classes at the Community College of Baltimore County.
By 2008, Shaney spoke English well and was ready to enroll in a four-year college. Married, with a newborn son, she began searching the internet for a local school that embraced older students. She found Goucher College and learned about the Goucher II program, which offers nontraditional-aged students an opportunity to begin or complete their undergraduate degrees as either part-time or full-time students.
"I was a little bit nervous about coming back to school after so many years not being in school," Shaney said. "I was afraid ... I'd be so much older than everybody else that I would be pushed aside, but that never happened."
She says she was surprised by how helpful everyone was on campus, including her fellow students, and especially faculty and staff.
"[You're] able to access every single person in every office," Shaney said. "Everything being accessible is a brand-new experience for me. In Poland, you have to chase all your professors down, and it's almost impossible to get an individual meeting. I've never had a bad experience with my teachers here."
Even when her son Joseph, now 3, would get sick and she would be late getting to class or handing in assignments, her professors worked with her.
"It was such a relief just to have someone who understands how it is," Shaney said. "I never expected any special treatment."
Shaney believes the support and accessibility of the Goucher community helped her earn a spot in the prestigious Walter Sondheim Jr. Maryland Nonprofit Leadership Program in 2010. The program offers paid internship opportunities in the nonprofit sector to 20 college junior and seniors attending Maryland institutions each year. The students work full-time for 10 weeks while participating in bi-weekly seminars in nonprofit management and receive a $3,000 stipend.
"I know I got accepted because I had a good résumé," Shaney said. She says her résumé was constructed using free fact sheets from the Career Development Office and with advice from its staff.
"Those people are trained to help you, and they will tell you what do," she said. "They know about all of these websites, internships, and possible financial opportunities. Money is everywhere - you just have to go and apply for it. It really works."
The stipend was vital for Shaney to be able to do an internship.
"I have a son, so it was very important for me that I was, at the same time, able to make some money to pay the bills," she said.
Shaney interned at the International Social Service, an international nonprofit agency that helps individuals, children, and families with social problems involving two or more, countries due to immigration or displacement. She said her internship, which focused on international adoption issues, was very interesting, and she is considering continuing in the field after she graduates in May 2011.
Shaney is majoring in Russian and is interested in helping new immigrants adjust to American life, as she once did. She said she is also considering jobs as a translator.
For other mothers considering getting their degree, Shaney offers the following advice: Make sure your family supports you."Without my husband, this wouldn't be possible," she said. "He helps me a lot."
Going to school while raising a child and working will be stressful, she said.
"It's important to keep the balance between the family and school because if you lose that balance, you are unhappy, the family is unhappy, and you're not getting anything done," Shaney said.
She also suggests refraining from taking too many credits at one time, avoiding early-morning classes, and working with an academic adviser to develop a comprehensive academic plan.