A fresh start at 50
Susan Alden sits at a computer station in the bright, modern library at Champlain College in Burlington, working on a course assignment. In this crowded room of students, she is unique for her cascading white hair; and she’s proof that education isn't only for the young. No one could be happier to be there than she.
Two years ago, Susan, now 51, suddenly found herself living alone in Grand Isle, Vermont, without income or a car. She moved into Burlington to share an apartment, and she found a job in retail, all the while spending her free time at the employment office looking for something better.
"There were jobs I was qualified for, but I would look ahead six months and think, 'No, I'm gonna bail,' " she says. Susan began to realize that it was time to do something she enjoyed and believed in.
It was through the job-search network that she met VSAC outreach counselor Cathy Hunter. Susan had a background in creative arts, having attended two semesters at the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1970s. She made jewelry and more recently had taken up digital photography (one of her enhanced images, "Rippled Reflections," was published in an art book about Lake Champlain). Cathy encouraged Susan to think about building a future on those talents.
"For once in my life, I didn't leap," says Susan. "I researched my options; I went to the VSAC library; I took a VSAC assessment quiz online and was as honest as I could be."
Susan constructed a plan, and all the elements fell into place: her abilities ("I have two-dimensional visual art talent"); a course of study (graphic design and digital media); the perfect school "Champlain took every credit I had ever earned!"); and tuition, in the form of grants and loans, plus a scholarship through a donor to VSAC's Vermont Scholarship Fund.
"Amazingly, the money was there, and the scholarship makes all the difference," says Susan, who bolsters her income by working part time with a senior-care client. "With the scholarship, I can afford to do some unpaid internships that will improve my qualifications."
Susan will graduate with a BS in 2011, after which she plans to work in Web site design. She radiates enthusiasm for what she is doing and what is ahead of her. "It's hard," she admits. "It's the most challenging thing I've ever done, but the most rewarding, hands down. I'll have the tools to have a life and to give of myself."