Non-Traditional but Together

Carrie Cleveland ’16, Social Work, is a member of UMBC’s Returning Women’s Mentoring Group.

Carrie ClevelandYesterday someone told me I was invisible.

My first thought was that the word invisible was the best adjective to describe me as a member of this campus community. My second thought was just how sad that would have made me feel a year ago, before I helped form a network of people like me.

So what makes me invisible? If you were to line me up with one hundred other students who were a representative sample of UMBC’s student population, I doubt I would stand out, because what makes me different is not especially apparent: my age.  The beautiful thing about being surrounded by a wonderful group of traditional-aged students (18-25 years old) is that no one realizes just how old I am.  Most students guess that I am older than they are, but not by much.  When I say I am 37 and I have three daughters, the reaction is almost always the same: “I thought you were like 25!”

Now, as wonderfully flattering as that may be to hear, it just speaks to my invisibility.  Unless we have a conversation, you may not realize just what it took for me to be sitting next to you in class.  Today is the perfect example of my challenges.  My daughter spiked a fever overnight and I have a group assignment that requires me to be on campus.  My husband is working in Iowa. My daughter’s normal day care center will not take her because of her fever. My backup care provider had a death in her family and is travelling to Virginia. My babysitter is out of town, and my family all lives in New Jersey.  So I am sitting here debating how to get to campus, and not only do I have my child to think about, I have three other people’s grades to think about.  I have done my due diligence, emailed everyone, including my professor, and am trying to get their feedback about what they are all comfortable with as I decide what to do.  I still have to get two other kids awake, fed, and on the bus and maybe take a shower.

In this moment, it all seems impossible.  In this moment, I am writing this blog post instead of doing any of those other things I SHOULD be doing.

This is why the Returning Women’s Mentoring Group, which I helped to launch with other returning women and the UMBC Women’s Center, is so important to me.  These women get it.  We are all dealing with full time jobs, partners, kids, mortgages, and so many other responsibilities that complicate our experiences as students.  It is hard when you have to miss a kid’s basketball game to finish a paper, or have to figure out how to be at work and take a final exam at the same time.

But we are not helpless by any stretch. All of us are making a conscious decision to invest in our education and to make sacrifices to do so.  We are at UMBC to do something for ourselves, and we’re stronger together.

Finding and building this group of women on campus changed my life.  When one of us graduates, I feel like we all do.  I get such a sense of pride and inspiration when one of us walks across that stage because I understand just what it took for her to get there. To me, these women are the very best part of UMBC and when we join together, we become a bit more visible.  As we look forward to 2015-2016, I am excited to see the new women who will join us on our journey, and I am even more excited that it will be my turn to walk across that stage.

Contact the author, Carrie Cleveland, at



  1. Reblogged this on Women's Center at UMBC and commented:
    A wonderful reflection written by Returning Women Student Scholar and Newcombe Scholarship recipient, Carrie Cleveland.

  2. stephanie says:

    Wow. This is so great. You ROCK!!

  3. Jodi Kelber-Kaye says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and for your work with the Returning Women community. You rock!!

  4. M. Golden says:

    Thanks for sharing your feelings, Carrie! I was a returning student at one point and can totally identify with the struggles and balancing of priorities, family life and finance and everything in between. It takes a great deal of resolve and fortitude to return to school when there is already so much on your plate. Enjoy your journey!

  5. John Boon says:

    Very nice article, Ms. Carrie. I can relate 100% to you. I transferred to UMBC this year from a community college. I’m 63. We “returning” students have a different setup which few are addressing. And few seem to have a clue what these challenges are. Thanks for writing, and for all the courage and stuff that keeps us showing up for class! We will succeed!

  6. Love your blog! I relate and it feels wonderful to know that I am not alone.

  7. Lori Hardesty says:

    Carrie, I feel stronger after just reading your blog – you nailed it in so many ways!

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