After spending over thirty years driving gasoline tankers back and forth across New England, the last thing Chris Mansfield wanted to do was sit in a classroom and take a test. Yet when he called an admissions counselor at Three Rivers to inquire about enrollment, that’s exactly what she told him he’d need to do. Luckily, she also reassured him that he had nothing to worry about.
“The first thing she told me was not to get nervous,” Chris says. “The placement test isn’t pass or fail. They just want to see what your strengths are so they can steer you toward them.”
The fact that Chris was even considering a return to education after so many years was a significant development for him. A lifelong Norwich resident who graduated from high school in 1978, he’d always felt destined for a lifetime in the workforce. But when his body started to feel the effects of thousands of miles on the road, his doctors told him it was time to start looking for something else.
“It was hard,” he says. “I was basically told that what I’ve done my whole life, I can’t do anymore.”
Chris initially considered the possibility of online education, but he was quickly turned off by the impersonal feeling he got from exploring the various options. A self-proclaimed “old school” type of guy, he opted to pick up the phone and have a conversation with a real human being. Being from Norwich, Chris began his search close to home.
“I called and spoke to a woman in Admissions about the placement test and she gave me all the information I needed. To be honest, I’m not sure I even remember her name, but she’s probably the reason that I wound up at Three Rivers.”
He followed up by browsing Three Rivers’ website to learn more about the different programs the College offers. What he expected would be five or ten minutes of searching turned into over two hours, as he delved deeper into the diverse subjects and courses available. In the end, he settled on pursuing a degree in engineering as a part-time student, with plans to graduate after finishing up coursework in summer 2017.
Understandably, Chris felt a little self-conscious when he stepped onto campus for the first time.
“I was afraid that I’d stick out,” he says. “I don’t exactly look like a normal college student.”
As he soon discovered, Three Rivers has a significant non-traditional age population. In fact, nearly twenty percent of the College’s students are over the age of thirty-five. Observing his fellow students, Chris started to feel more at ease.
“I looked at myself, and I looked around, and I realized that I’m not the only one.”
Chris also took comfort in the robust support network that was in place to help him succeed. Every professor with whom he’s taken a course has been available, either before or after class, to offer extra help if he needs it. He’s also taken advantage of the tutoring center and encourages other students to do the same. More than anything, he’s formed a strong connection with his advisor, Jodi Calvert.
“I consider myself to be blessed. Everyone needs an advisor to trust. For me, it’s Jodi. We hit it off from day one. I call her my guiding light.”
As Chris nears completion of his engineering degree, he’s working with the College’s job placement staff to explore his future work options. He may even continue his education, as he’s only five courses away from earning a second degree, in mechanical engineering. He knows that graduating in his mid-fifties won’t look quite the same as it might for a traditional age student, but that doesn’t stop him from looking to the future with optimism and excitement.
“Having this degree should open new doors for me,” he says. “My father used to say that the most beautiful thing about a finish line is that on the other side, there’s another starting line.”
With a lifetime of real-world experience already under his belt, he can’t help but offer some advice to his younger classmates who’ve yet to hit the workforce. He encourages them to own their decision to attend college—to never take it for granted, and to truly put forth the effort and do the work.
As for his own decision to attend Three Rivers?
“I have no regrets. I would do it all over again.”
Chris Mansfield, General Engineering Technology Student