Non-Traditional Student Aims to Help Others
Nakita Elwood jokes about always nagging her son and two “bonus sons” about their grades. It must have worked since all three have their college diplomas.
And now it is the boys' turn to nag.
Elwood is realizing a dream by being a non-traditional student at Emporia State University. She begins her senior year with the fall 2014 semester, working toward a degree in sociology.
"I have always dreamed of earning a college degree and at age 50 I began my journey of making that dream a reality," she said. "I was married right out of high school and my priorities were very different. I have one son who earned a college degree and continued on to earn his master's degree. I also have been blessed to have two bonus sons who lived with me who also went on to pursue a higher education."
Besides the possibility of hearing some nagging about grades, Elwood admitted to facing some other serious fears during her educational journey.
"Going back to school as a non-traditional student is frightening and very intimidating. I felt alone and felt I did not blend, but the professors at Emporia State soon calmed my fears. The professors here truly care about their students' success."
Elwood took matters into her own hands, too, and helped organize the Non-Traditional Student Organization at Emporia State. The group helps make the transition into college for non-trad students easier.
"The best advice I can share with non-trads is to connect with other non-trads on campus right away," she said. "We have a wonderful support system amongst us. Non-traditional students have different needs than traditional students do, and by using all the resources Emporia State has available, it will help make the transition easier.
"I came a long way from being that scared and nervous woman attending college for the first time at 50," Elwood added. "I have realized I am a whole lot smarter than I ever knew I was. ESU helped me find that in myself and I am so thankful I took that initial first step."
Elwood then spoke out to all those following a similar path, saying, "If I can do it, so can you!"
Her path, besides marrying right out of high school, had other complexities, though. One difficult life obstacle was domestic violence.
"I am a domestic violence survivor," she said. "I have a passion to help other women who are experiencing the same thing I once did. I have the life experience to know what they are going through, but I needed the 'book-smart' aspect of it."
Thus, the major in sociology.
"I chose my minor in leadership because these women need built up before they can start to believe in themselves once again. I am driven to empower them and show them there is a much better life just waiting for them and to show them they are worthy of so much more."
Elwood has received some important financial support, too, being named a First Year Scholar by earning a 3.5 or higher grade-point average and being awarded an Endly Scholarship for the 2013-14 school year.
The Virginia Endly Memorial Scholarship is a full-ride scholarship offered by the university. The H. Merle Endly family has a long history with Emporia State University dating back to the early 1900s when the school was named Kansas State Normal School. It is named in honor of his sister.
The scholarship is equal to current in-state tuition and fees, the current resident hall fee (double room) including the full meal plan and the current average cost of books. Recipients must be full-time students in good academic standing and eligible to reapply.
Elwood also works at the Welcome Center in the Memorial Union and has gotten involved by being part of the Emporia State University E-Team.
"By being part of this dynamic group," she said, "we are able to connect with incoming freshmen right away to help make them feel welcomed and at home. Being part of the E-Team is great. I love the fact that I can help students make that connection right off the bat and mentor them so their college journey is a positive one."
Elwood also showed she has an entrepreneurial side this year when she teamed with accounting major Teri Whitson to enter the first-ever 3D Emporia Venture Competition. Their entry was a business plan for the Rock Creek Ostrich Farm that would provide an alternative red meat to consumers. The project was awarded the grand prize of $4,000 in the competition.
Elwood and Whitson then finished second place in the first-ever Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge.