Over the past year, Richard Connell has been spending more of his time in Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, carefully dividing the hours between his full-time maintenance job there and studying for his non-fiction writing course. Connell has almost finished his first two semesters of a program designed for Penn employees accepted by the College of General Studies and the Wharton Evening School.
The two-year-old "stretch program," as it's informally called, is a series of four regular college courses plus study skills workshops designed for employees who have been accepted to CGS or the Evening School but lack a background in the liberal arts or recent school experience. Once accepted, these employees are given the option either to enroll in the stretch program using the faculty/staff scholarship or to take four courses at a community college at their own expense.
After taking either English 002, "Nonfiction Writing," or the college-level prep of Math 115 over the course of a year - hence the term "stretch" - the students may enroll in two classes selected with their advisor.
Thea Diamond teaches the English course two nights a week to a class of nine eager employees. "Some of them are just such sponges, they're a teacher's dream," Diamond said. Her students are a mix of secretaries, clerks and janitors ranging in age from 23 to 58 years old.
Connell is one of those students.
"It is not really difficult to attend the class for a year, although I could have taken two classes in that span of time," he said. "I find that life does not always cooperate with the plans you try to make, so I will just keep on climbing the hill." He plans on studying business management after finishing the introductory courses.
Diamond said some of her writing students are taking the math course at the same time, "which is really unbelievable."
Robert Lane, an assistant dean and advisor in CGS, said that jumping back into college after being out of practice for a number of years is demanding.
"We've had the external option for years, but for Penn employees who hold down full-time jobs, that can be difficult," Lane said.
Originally published on April 15, 1999