“I was standing in a used car lot with my son, he was buying a motorcycle, in Fayetteville,” says Angela Allen. “I looked up and saw a billboard that said, ‘A UGA degree is closer than you think.’”
Lucy Ann Mitchell heard an announcement on the radio and Laura Anzalone’s mom saw an ad in the newspaper about the consumer economics major being offered at the University of Georgia’s Griffin campus. These three students, plus two more, each decided the program was a good fit for them and have become the first to pursue their bachelor’s of science degree in family and consumer sciences at Griffin.
The UGA Griffin campus program began two years ago when majors in biological science and environmental resource science began to be offered. It expanded to four majors in fall 2006 when majors in consumer economics and agribusiness became options. A master’s program in math education for elementary school teachers also is offered. In order to qualify for admissions, students must already have completed 60 hours of undergraduate study and have a minimum grade point average of 2.5.
Just as their discovery of the UGA Griffin campus program differed for each of the consumer economics majors, so does their background.
Mitchell, who is known as “Miss Lucy” to both her classmates and instructors, is 76 years old. She earned a two-year teaching degree in 1949 and her four-year degree in 1959 from the University of West Georgia in Carrollton.
“I taught for six years, but I never did like it,” she says. “I was sorry I didn’t take this when I went to school, but at that time they needed teachers so badly.” In addition to her stint as a teacher, Mitchell has taught piano, worked in an office, worked as a licensed practical nurse and raised beef cattle.
Anzalone, on the other hand, fits the more traditional view of an undergraduate student. Anzalone is 23 years old and studied journalism for two years at Georgia State University. For personal reasons, Anzalone decided to leave Georgia State. The transfer to the Griffin campus allowed her to move home to Peachtree City and commute the half-hour to Griffin for classes.
Allen falls in the middle of Mitchell and Anzalone, both in terms of her age and her academic background. Allen earned her two-year associate’s degree from Valdosta State in 1982. She then spent a number of years managing a dentist’s office and raising her two children, both of whom are pre-med majors at Georgia Southern University.
“After I saw the billboard, I just came in to find out about the program and the adviser started asking me all kinds of questions about whether I had taken this course or that course,” she says, laughing. “I was really nervous for a while because I thought I needed to take calculus, but then I saw on my transcript I had taken it. And I had made an ‘A!’”
A total of five students began the consumer economics major in fall 2006. All five began classes again this term, although one student has missed several classes recently.
During that first semester, the students took courses in the family economic environment, introduction to consumer economics, introduction to personal finance and housing in contemporary society. This semester, they’re taking their first courses from a tenure-track faculty member. Velma Zahirovic-Herbert, who earned her PhD in economics at Georgia State, was hired during the fall and began teaching this spring. They’re also taking a third course on demographics and some of them are taking a fourth course on environmental law and governmental regulations.
“We had two wonderful people who started us out,” Allen says of the adjunct faculty members who taught during the fall semester. “But it’s nice having a real ‘doctor’ teaching us.”
Zahirovic-Herbert is teaching two courses this spring – Family Economic Behavior and Policy and Housing and Consumer Economics. Although the courses were originally supposed to be taught in 11/2 hour blocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the classes instead are taught once a week in three-hour blocks – one meeting on Tuesdays, the other on Thursdays.
“This makes it easier for the students to concentrate,” Zahirovic-Herbert says. “They’re not afraid of work, but the material in the housing and consumer economics class can be hard to follow, especially if a student either hasn’t taken the introductory economics courses or if it’s been many years since they took them.”
The students acknowledge both their academic struggles and other issues, such as becoming comfortable with computers.
“I know this would have been easier for me if I was computer literate,” Mitchell says. “I don’t even own a computer, so I use the ones that are here on campus.”
Allen says she’s comfortable using a computer, but did need the help of a middle-schooler to learn how to make a graph on the computer.
Anzalone, on the other hand, is up to date with computers, but has faced the challenge of switching from journalism to consumer economics.
“It’s definitely been challenging,” she says. “Economics is new to me, but the teachers have been incredible.”
During the class, Zahirovic-Herbert keeps things lively, moving from a seat just in front of the students to slides projected on a screen to drawing basic economic graphs on the whiteboard. All the while, she’s focusing closely on the three students, ensuring they understand the concept before she moves on.
“It that all right?” she asks repeatedly. “Is that all right? Can I move on?”
Recruiting efforts are currently under way for the next group of students to begin this fall. Allen says she hopes UGA will reach out to nearby Gordon College and also will begin to offer more classes during the day.
“I think this program started as more of a working person’s degree,” she says. “But I think there are a lot of younger students who can’t afford to go to UGA in Athens, but still want to take classes during the day.”
Zahirovic-Herbert says she also would like to see the program grow, although not to the sizes she taught as a graduate student at Georgia State.
“At Georgia State, I had classes of 110 students,” she says. “You couldn’t tell who was paying attention and who was instant messaging their friends. Ideally, I would like this program to have classes of about 15 students.”
The students are all on track to graduate in May 2008.
Anzalone is looking forward to joining her fellow graduates at Sanford Stadium for the graduation ceremony, but Allen and Mitchell have different ideas.
“I hope they have something here,” Allen counters. “This is where I’ve taken classes.”
Mitchell agrees, noting that mobility problems would keep her from traveling easily to Athens.
Regardless of where the graduation ceremony is held, Allen says she’s glad that the courses have been challenging.
“We don’t want this to be an easy program,” she says. “It’s a UGA degree. It needs to meet the same standards as if we were taking the classes in Athens.”