Adult students learning alongside their children at Wayland

PLAINVIEW -- For 18-year-olds just out of high school, college is a natural option these days. For those headed for careers that require higher education, attending a university is a no-brainer.

But decades ago, that wasn’t always the case, and some adults went straight into the workforce for a variety of reasons. So it isn’t really uncommon, especially at schools like Wayland Baptist University, to see adults returning to the classroom to pursue the degree they either never finished or never started.

What is a bit more uncommon is to see those adult students learning alongside their own children, who fall more into the “traditional” age range of college students. Vicki Connell falls into that category, but her story has a bit of a twist to it. She actually moved to Plainview with her son, Jason, to attend Wayland.

A family crisis in Fort Worth left Vicki’s husband Jay without work, and Vicki was unable to handle the rent and family finances alone. Their married daughter, Christy Gonce, lives in Plainview and was finishing her degree at WBU, so the family thought the move here made sense.

“Jason had just graduated and was ready for college, so instead of just wasting away in Fort Worth, we decided to come here and go to school,” Vicki said, adding they arrived in Plainview in May and lived with her daughter before married student housing at WBU opened up in July.

Originally, she thought she’d just work, but having some college already under her belt from years before, Vicki figured she might as well earn her degree while she was here.

“I wanted to do something with my time that would be productive,” she said. “I’ve worked with students for 20 years in Christian schools, but I’m learning new things like computers and software, that will help me down the road too.”

Vicki is working on an English degree through the Division of Education so she can teach in the future. She’s working part-time at Hastings as well. Jason is still trying to figure out his future plans and set a major, but he’s enjoying the challenge of college as well.

“I wondered if they would accept me here or if I could do the work,” said Jason, who had some serious health issues as an infant and sustained some hearing damage. “But I’m doing well here and like the classes a lot. I like the smaller setting here where’s there’s more of a personal feel. I don’t like crowds, so this was easy to get used to.”

The Connells have found support and encouragement at College Heights Baptist Church and make trips to Fort Worth to see Jay whenever they can. Both are thankful for the classwork that serves as a productive distraction from the troublesome situation.

“The Lord knows why these things happen, and he says he won’t put more on us than we can handle,” Vicki said with confidence. “God’s really worked through this situation.”

As for those courses, Jason and Vicki say they purposefully plan their schedules where they don’t have classes together, though they have taken several of the same courses at the same time. Vicki said she wants Jason to have as close to a normal college experience. But they admit they study together, especially for classes they share in common, and proof each other’s work.

Vicki said while she initially had some fears about being able to handle college coursework, she’s found herself able to rise to the challenge. Jason is proud his mother is pursuing her education as well, and he’s not embarrassed to share the campus with her.

“I don’t feel too out of place here. I noticed a lot of younger kids, of course, but there are some older students too,” she said. “I have worked with kids for years, so I’m comfortable here.”

Joel Magallan, Sr. of Hale Center shares the sentiment. As a senior at Wayland, Magallan had worked as a paint and body technician for more than 30 years before finally taking the plunge and pursuing his degree at WBU.

Magallan followed several of his children to Wayland, encouraged by their confidence in him and their success with degrees.

“They really wanted me to get out of the (car) business and do something else. But it’s all I knew, so I didn’t have any other goals,” he said. “Now I’d like to be a Spanish teacher in the high school. I really want to help kids learn something.”

Magallan stopped by WBU in 1996 to pick up an academic catalog, but he put it away for several years thinking it was just too far-fetched a dream.

“I thought going to college was unattainable… period. I didn’t think I had the intellect, that college was only for the very smart,” he recalls. “I wanted to come years ago but I never did. I had to work for my family.”

When his wife, Loida, offered to carry the load of the family finances so he could pursue the degree, Joel decided to take the plunge and enroll, starting in 2003 at the same time as his daughter Stacy. That first semester, he made the Dean’s List, a dream he said surprised both himself and his family since he was making better grades than in high school. But it affirmed he was doing the right thing.

As he’s finishing up his degree, Magallan is attending WBU alongside his son Joel, Jr., also a senior, and daughter Evelyn, a sophomore. Daughter Peggy graduated a few years back, and son Amos attended for a few years before transferring to Texas Tech to pursue an engineering degree. The Magallans have two children still in high school, Zachariah and Kathlyn.

The family has tried not to schedule classes together, Magallan said, but sometimes the rotation would fall where they were in class together. Though it might have been uncomfortable for both sides, Joel said his children have been totally supportive of his endeavor and are proud he is accomplishing his goal. Like the Connells, the family studies together often, though most of the Magallan children are studying business.

Magallan knows he’s learned valuable skills, like computers, during his time at Wayland, and wants to make a difference in the lives of young people. He’s also excited that completing his degree will improve his family life financially.

“My wife has been so supportive, and she’s paying the bills for now. That’s another motivator for me; she works hard so this is possible,” he said. “We’re sacrificing now but it will pay off later.”

Magallan is also hoping his story motivates others – young and old – to pursue higher education and believe in their goals and dreams.

“I’ve tried to help motivate my younger kids to go as well as others,” he said with a chuckle. “If I can do it, all old and worn out, I know they can do it.”