Pat Ormond is part of a growing population of nontraditional students enrolling in college.
To address working adults, UTC launched a new degree program in fall 2021—the Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Leadership—a fully online program tailored to students with previous college, military or work experience who want to complete their undergraduate degrees.
Students in the fledgling program include:
- Christina Culbreath, who initially moved to Chattanooga with her three sons to further her career. She had no idea that obtaining a bachelor’s degree would become part of that relocation.
- Jermillya Farris, who first took classes at UTC in 2002, is back on campus in a virtual sense. “I need some type of formal education to move up the ladder,” she said. “Not having a degree is only going to take me so far.”
- Larry Guess, who—if all goes as planned—will be the first student in the BAS-AL online degree program to complete the program in December. And it only took him 25 years—and five different attempts—since he started college.
At 76 years old, Pat Ormond can’t stop. Not interested.
“If I’m not busy, I’m unhappy. I’m bored,” she said.
In November 2020, she picked up her diploma for a bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It wasn’t enough.
She immediately re-enrolled at UTC to pursue a bachelor’s in history. Once that’s in her back pocket—she figures sometime in 2023—she wants to go for a bachelor’s in sociology.
The first degree began with her first college course 42 years ago, the goal of a diploma sidetracked by two full-time jobs—setting up computer systems for accounting firms and raising kids and grandkids.
Her thirst for knowledge and love of learning may have more impact than a diploma, though.
“I think it’s probably saving my life,” she explained. “It keeps me mentally sharp and somewhat physically sharp, and I need to do a little bit more of that than I do.”
“Mentally sharp” only scratches the surface. Some college-age students should wish they had her clarity of thought, crackerjack wit and resolute determination.
Watching “Nana” hurtle headlong into more college wasn’t all that shocking, said Melody Ormond, her 23-year-old granddaughter who earned a bachelor’s in psychology from UTC in 2020.
“We were kind of surprised, but it was like, ‘Here she goes again. She can’t stop.’ She’s just not done with what she could do next,” Melody said.
Pat and Melody are linked beyond being grandmother and granddaughter and UTC graduates. They graduated together at the same 2020 commencement ceremony.
News of the celebration of grandmother and granddaughter being handed their diplomas—one right after the other on the same stage—received worldwide attention. Stories were published in 23 countries, including England, France, Iceland, Vietnam, Australia, India and Brazil. They were featured on CNN, in Newsweek magazine and interviewed on “The Morning Show” in Australia.
“I could not believe how viral it went,” Pat said.
Her dive straight back into college didn’t give her a whole lot of time to revel in global recognition. She still can’t. Her to-do list is too packed. She describes a one-day list:
“I have to go to the library and rent out a recorder tomorrow. I have a class observation to do from 10 to 11:30. I have a class at 12:15. In the next class, I have to give a presentation.”
Then she must go home, cook a meal for her grandson and drive him to work. Oh yeah, there’s also is a 15-page research paper to write.
College of Health, Education and Professional Studies Dean Valerie Rutledge taught the “Elementary Latin for Science Majors II” course that Pat took and describes her as curious, creative and committed.
“Pat has an extensive background which includes not only a wide range of experiences, but which is also accompanied by a curiosity about a number of different topics and areas,” Rutledge said.
“Her work is not only organized and in-depth, but her projects and products are creative and engaging. The approach she brings to her studies reflects her personality—committed to learning, willing to share her own perspectives, open to the ideas and input of others.”
One of Pat’s class projects is working with another student to create a board game, a blend of Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly involving questions about ancient Roman gods. Get the answer right, you move ahead. Get it wrong and you move back. Get too many wrong and you’re in big trouble.
“Instead of going to jail like Monopoly, you’ll go to Hades,” she explained.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in history isn’t just about studying days gone by from textbooks. As part of her history curriculum as well as just for fun, she enrolled in “Food and Southern History,” a look at why and what people eat and its meaning.
The course covered the process for curing different cuts of pork. Several weeks later, after the curing process was finished, the students ate what they’d made.
No big deal, Pat said. She’s grown her own food for most of her life.
“I grew up on a full, working farm. Churned butter every day. We killed hogs, cattle,” she said.
To give her time to get back to the soil, she’s slacking off in summer semester, taking only two courses.
“I’m trying to put in a big garden.”
The crops will include tomatoes, peppers, squash and watermelons. among others. Using her anthropology knowledge, she’ll use the Three Sisters, a Native American method of planting corn, beans and squash together to nourish and support each other, she explained.
Beyond growing a garden, learning Latin and pursuing degrees, Pat hopes her experiences in both the world and on campus are valuable to other students.
“I think having an older, more seasoned person to talk to—who knows the ropes and knows where to go for this and that and the other—helps them, makes them feel a bit more comfortable.
“I’ve met students that are from good ways off, and they’re completely away from family. You need a grandmother sometimes. I tell them, ‘You call me. I’m here.'”
Mr. Ryan, this is a nice, beautiful story. Thank you for posting this.