In the late 1980s, Rebecca Heftel was a student at Wright State University pursuing a major in music. As a lifelong singer, Heftel’s plans went awry when she began to experience issues with her vocal chords, forcing her to switch her major.
While struggling to find a new major that interested her, she met someone and made the decision to drop out of college.
Heftel went on to marry the man she left school for. They share a daughter, Catrina, but have since divorced.
“I left university to follow my heart,” Heftel said. “I shouldn't have left, but when you're 20, 21, you think you've got the world in your hands … I [thought] ‘I can come back to this,’ but that never happened.”
But, Heftel has since resumed her studies. Today, at age 52, Heftel is studying English at Miami University’s Hamilton campus.
“I like to read, but the things I like to read, I also kind of like to pick them apart, and someone suggested [to me] that I should go into editing,” Heftel said about choosing her major.
“[I returned to school] for professional reasons and because I got tired of being the eldest in my family and the only one who had not graduated from college.”
Currently, Heftel works as an administrative assistant in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department. Because she’s a university employee, Miami waives Heftel’s tuition.
But, when Heftel accepted the position at Miami 13 years ago, it wasn't her own education she had in mind.
“I was thinking ahead to what would happen if my daughter wanted to go to university, and how was I going to pay for it?” Heftel said. “I knew that the tuition waiver also applied to the children of [employees]. It just so happened that I thought, ‘Well, I can take advantage of that, too.’”
Years later, Heftel’s daughter did end up enrolling at Miami University's Hamilton campus and is supportive of her mother’s return to school.
“I don't think that I could be any happier for her,” Catrina said. “She is such an amazing person, and I just wish that she could just find something that makes her so happy … She gave up her career for me when I was born.”
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Catrina said she has found it helpful to go to the same school as her mom, as they often support each other and can provide insight to each other on professors.
Heftel is approaching the point of her degree where the higher level classes required for her major are not offered online like many of the classes she has taken thus far. Heftel said that it's hard for her to attend classes when she works a full time job.
But when Heftel decided she wanted to study abroad, she faced a large challenge: being almost entirely surrounded by traditional students 20 years younger.
When Heftel comes in contact with traditional students, she said that she sometimes has concerns about how she will be perceived or treated, especially if they find out she works at Miami.
She said mostly people just react to her with surprise.
Although Heftel greatly enjoyed her trip to Italy through Miami’s Florence: Visions and Contrast’s Program, she didn’t participate in many of the events that the other students attended.
“I didn't go out to clubs and stuff like that with them, but you know, I didn't expect to be invited, and I wasn't,” Heftel said. “I didn't stand in the way of anyone either.”
Heftel did occasionally go to dinners with the supervising professors of the trip, but also found a friend in one of her roommates who was another non-traditional student in her late 20s.
Once Heftel gets her degree, her dream job is to be a copy editor for a website that does news curation, because she is very interested in current events.
Despite the many challenges Heftel has faced and continues to face in the pursuit of college degree, she said she tries her best to stay motivated.
“It's kind of a long term goal,” Heftel said. “Sometimes it seems very frustrating, like it's never going to happen, but then somehow, some way, it all works out in the end, and you realize that all the sacrifices are worth it.”