Eli Feathers juggles the everyday trials of being a father to four youngsters with a driving ambition to enter the field of physical therapy.
That combination led Feathers, 35, to become one of hundreds of non-traditional students enrolled at SUNY Cortland.
“One thing that I find interesting about nontraditional students, we seem to be more vocal,” said Feathers, a senior exercise science major who is currently the vice president of the College’s Nontraditional Student Organization. “I guess that it helps being a father of four little runts.”
While his wife, Jessica, commutes for work to and from Syracuse, N.Y., Feathers cares for the children and a wide assortment of family pets on the homestead in Truxton, N.Y. On any given weeknight the father of 11-year-old Payton and 5-year-old Luciana and foster dad of 5-year-old Rileigh and 4-year-old Grayson meets a succession of buses dropping off returning members of his brood. He also prepares a dinner for the whole family and then chauffeurs youngsters to dance lessons or sports practice.
He is convinced this double life actually improves his performance in the classroom and around campus.
“Aside from me being able to use my vocal chords, my time management skills couldn’t be sharper,” Feathers said. “Maybe this has more to do with me having a family as anything.”
Nationwide, non-traditional college students — defined as students older than 23, students raising children, students working full time, students with prior military experience or students who have an interruption in their education – make up an increasingly large segment of campus populations. At SUNY Cortland, approximately 300 undergraduate students are 24 or older, according to Cheryl Hines, coordinator of student outreach and non-traditional student support.
These students often take unique paths to realize their academic goals and achieve their degrees after overcoming obstacles that traditional, right-out-of-high-school students don’t usually face.
That’s why SUNY Cortland is once again recognizing and celebrating these dedicated students during annual Non-Trad Week, which starts on Veterans Day – Friday Nov. 11 – and runs through Friday, Nov. 18.
Non-Trad Week events include family activities, a specially tailored scholarship session, a free taco bar and a “Non-Trads Rock” T-shirt day, when anyone spotted wearing that signature shirt will win a prize. A full list of activities is available.
The College will be publicly recognizing notable non-trads throughout the week, Hines said. You can nominate someone for recognition.
“Life isn’t a straight line,” Feathers observed, describing his atypical route to an education. “It’s a highway or it’s a country back road. Sometimes you take the easy road, just go with the flow, and sometimes you aren’t well served.”