"Use your life and work experience to your advantage. The skills you’ve developed for time management, teamwork, and communication are just as important to the successful completion of your studies as exam technique, essay writing skills, or being able to pull all-nighters. Sharing these strengths and complexities in a group setting will greatly benefit the learning for all."
What’s your name, major and where are you from?
My name is Tiffany Spendiff, I am a rising senior majoring in Microbiology. I grew up in the San Juan Islands in Washington State and graduated from high school there, but that was quite some time ago. Since high school I’ve been constantly on the go, traveling and living in my different places, so “where are you from” isn’t exactly a clear cut for me.
Tell us about your journey to Oregon State?
Immediately following high school, I enrolled in a community college with the intention of completing an AS-Transfer degree and honing in on a major that I’d like to pursue at the university level. After about a year, it became clear that at this particular juncture my heart just wasn’t in college. None of my classes or anything I was learning grabbed my attention. The subject I did have a passion for though was traveling. I spent my twenties and early thirties working in the maritime industry, in many capacities. I enjoyed it immensely and it allowed me to see all seven continents of the world(!) and meet people from so many diverse backgrounds. It was a lightbulb moment about four years ago that I remembered how much I enjoyed microscopy and biology, particularly marine biology when I was in high school. I started reading a lot of books on those subjects and decided that microbiology is the major for me.
I chose to attend OSU after reading many articles about shellfish research happening on the Corvallis campus and at Hatfield Marine Science Center and this is a particular interest of mine. Last year I had a chance to participate in that research, in the Biomedical Sciences Department, which I’m hoping to continue during my senior year.
What is it like being a non-traditional student?
Ok, I’m going to be 100% honest here. Being a non-traditional student has been a huge challenge, both academically and emotionally, for me. I had a 12-year gap in my education, and in that time I forgot a lot of what I learned in high school and my early college years. I had to relearn basic mathematical and grammatical concepts. I’m not as quick to recall facts as I used to be, and test-taking, which used to be one of my strengths, is something I struggle with now. Also during my hiatus, the shift towards group learning took hold, which has forced me out of my comfort zone and I was initially very resistant to it. The pronounced age difference between myself and most of my classmates has at times left me feeling like I stand out, and on a number of occasions, I’ve even been mistaken as the professor on the first day of class. It’s not all doom and gloom though! The excitement and enthusiasm I have for learning, for my major, and for my future career in STEM is something I didn’t experience in college the first time around, and what an amazing feeling it is! At OSU I’ve funneled that energy into opportunities such as research and professional networking and devoting myself to studying and learning as much as I can.
Advice for fellow non-traditional students?
Take advantage of the many outstanding programs and resources to help keep you on a successful path academically, mentally, and physically. In addition to being non-traditional, I am also a first-generation and a low-income student and there are so many resources available to students that fall into those categories. CAPS, TRiO, and the HSRC have been my lifelines.
What is your favorite experience at Oregon State?
That feeling I had the first time I didn’t need to use my phone to navigate around campus! The first couple of weeks were brutal, I was getting turned around endlessly and taking the long routes because they were easier to navigate. I’ll never forget that sense of accomplishment when I confidently walked across campus, from class to class finally able to look up and take in the views and smile.
Tips for staying motivated during distance learning?
Connecting with a great study group is essential! My study group meets regularly to develop a better understanding of the material, and we put our heads together to knock out group assignments. We check in with each other to make sure we’re clear on concepts and due dates. Most importantly, we encourage each other to stay motivated when it feels like you just can’t go on.
In the long term: remember the bigger picture and keep your eye on the prize! For me, that prize is a career in microbiology so I spend free time doing research on different types of microbiology jobs, I even go to job sites to browse available jobs. I envision my future career and remind myself how far I’ve come and how hard I’ve worked to be where I am.