Now or Never: Miller, 77, Proves It’s Never Too Late to Earn Bachelor’s Degree

Jane reading "Who Rules America?" in a home office

Jane Bell Miller
Bachelor’s in General Studies

There were only two concerns Jane Bell Miller had before starting her educational journey online. One, if she could manage the technology involved. Two, how she would pass a math class after 60 years of not studying the subject.

Miller isn’t like your typical online student. At 77 years young, she set out to complete her bachelor’s degree through Ball State Online.

“Academic success is not about the age of the body or how long since you were last in school,” said Miller. “It has everything to do with determination and a willingness to do whatever it takes.”

Now or Never

Rather than attending college after graduating from high school in 1958 – a decision she’s always regretted – Miller began working as a secretary at the University of Virginia. However, throughout the course of her 40-year secretarial career, Miller picked up enough credits at community college to earn her associate degree in 1997.

Twenty years later, Miller decided that if she was going to earn her bachelor’s degree, it was now or never. Ball State Online academic advisor, Laura Waldron, helped Miller determine which of her prior courses would transfer into the bachelor of general studies program.

“Taking that first step is the hardest. From then on, it’s just a matter of following through on the next step, and the next,” said Miller. “I credit Ball State’s staff with making my online learning experience so successful.”

Miller has never felt disconnected to her instructors or classmates, even though her classes are completely online. In fact, being an online student has given her the freedom to open up in assignments and discussion boards in a way that might otherwise be intimidating in a classroom setting.

A Fueling Factor

Completing her education means more to Miller than just a diploma; it’s also a way to keep her mind active and sharp at her age.

“A factor fueling my focus on education is that my mother died of complications from Alzheimer’s, so I am willing to do anything in my power to try to avoid the same fate. Luckily for me, I thoroughly enjoy the process of learning,” said Miller.

It’s evident Miller’s doing just that, as proof of the 4.0 GPA she’s maintained every semester at Ball State.

“It is so satisfying to see that my brain can handle the material just as well as a 20-year-old [student],” said Miller.

Never Stop Learning

Miller is set to graduate in May 2019 with a bachelor’s in general studies, but admits that her learning will not stop there. After graduation, she plans to resume piano lessons and work to improve her bridge game as a way to continue exercising her brain.

“I had held back for years before looking into finishing my degree,” said Miller. “I’m so glad I decided, ‘It’s now or never.’ ”

As for that math class, Miller proved once again that there wasn’t a challenge she couldn’t tackle. She did, however, make sure to celebrate her passing grade and no longer needing to study probabilities and statistics again.

Kat Parker Enrolls in Ball State Online to Finish What She Started

After dropping out of Ball State 30 years ago, Kat Parker of Indiana recently returned to pursue an online bachelor’s degree in general studies. For Parker, returning to school was not about pursuing a new career, but achieving an old goal—for herself, her children, and her mother, now deceased. Today Parker serves as a Ball State student ambassador to other online students returning to college.

Q: What motivated you to return to college to pursue your degree?

A: Back in 1987, I had poor study habits and poor time management skills which – combined with a strong taste for independence and a love of socializing – did not make for a successful student. I quit Ball State within a year. As I got older, I regretted the wasted opportunity and hated feeling like a quitter. I also regretted disappointing my mother by dropping out. When she passed away and my oldest daughter was getting ready to leave for college, I wanted to prove to myself that I could go back to college and be a better student. I wanted to show my daughters that it is never too late to learn, and I wanted to honor my mother’s desire for me to earn a college degree.

Q: Can you give a specific example of how your education has helped you in the workplace already?

A: I am currently taking a business writing course. I recently was able to use what I have learned to carefully compose an email to [middle school] administrators about some issues that needed attention. Using the 3×3 writing process really helped me make my key points clear and concise so I did not overwhelm the recipient with needless information. The administrators, as a result, have been positive in their responses to my concerns.

Q: How do you balance your education and your career?

A: I have been a student now for more than three years, and I still struggle finding balance. When I am at work, I think about the things I need to do for school and at home. When I am studying, I am thinking about what I need to do for work. It is a rough cycle. It really comes down to finding a good time management system that works for you. I try to list everything I need to do for school, work, and home into one calendar to help me keep track of what I need to be doing.

Q: What motivated you to become a Ball State Online Student Ambassador?

A: It had been more than 25 years since I had been a student in college and a lot had changed. I wished there was someone to guide me through the Blackboard system and tell me what to expect as an online student. I was overwhelmed and almost quit my first couple of weeks because I felt like I was not prepared for all the changes. When I read about the Ambassador program, I saw this not only as an opportunity to get involved with the university, but also to meet new online students who might be looking for someone to help them through their first semester.

Ball State Online Grad Becomes Digital Media Entrepreneur

Typically, a bachelor of general studies degree sets students on a wide road toward a number of career destinations.

But the path of Sophia Benedict provides a good example of how Ball State’s bachelor of general studies (BGS) can provide students with specific skill sets in a specific field. Benedict enrolled in the BGS program, which is offered 100 percent online, and chose to customize her program with minors in digital media and business information technology.

“I wanted to dive deeper into the digital world,” says Benedict, who brought marketing experience to her degree.

Her story is also one of an adventurous soul on a literal journey with destinies unknown. Benedict and family are hitting the road this summer for a year-long travel adventure that will take them to the American Northwest and parts beyond. Benedict, a self-described entrepreneur, will continue her virtual work of consulting other entrepreneurs who want to grow their online communities. She will also teach a digital course that she calls, “48-Hour Digital Storyteller.”

Q: In general, what were your major takeaways from the BGS program?

I learned a lot about elements of design, digital storytelling, and how to conduct research.

Q: You said you chose Ball State’s BGS program, in part, because of the digital media courses?

Digital media excites me. I wanted to dive deeper into the digital world. Business information technology seemed to complement the digital media minor. I have a well-rounded background in marketing.

Q: Did your professors provide you with any projects that were particularly interesting?

The digital media instructors were especially helpful. For example, one journalism professor required the class to turn in “learning documents.” Rather than summarizing information, we were required to explain how this information benefited us, how we can apply it to our field, and then to find counter arguments for it. It really made me think deeper about the knowledge he presented.

A couple faculty set up Google Hangouts where they and a few students would video conference our studies and progress. Both took the time to give constructive criticism on all of our written work and allowed us to revise as part of the learning process.

Q: You have launched an online business that teaches your clients how to make an impact through social media.

Yes. Ball State’s program taught me the principles of design, how to incorporate design to help tell stories. So I teach my clients how to share stories that make an impact. I teach them how to follow the framework of the “hero’s journey” by breaking their life into small, digestible stories to spread on social media.

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