Gabrielle Moore took a deep breath and walked into the first college class she’d been to in almost 30 years. She looked around the classroom and noticed she was undoubtedly the oldest student among her peers, including the professor — just as she suspected. Intimidation and worry seeped into her thoughts again. Was she cut out for going back to school? But, the encouragement of her family members kept her going, reassuring her that she was smart enough and capable enough to do this.
Gabrielle, a third-generation Idahoan and Boise native, graduated from Borah High School and became the first of her family to attend Boise State in 1989. A year into her undergraduate experience, Gabrielle decided that the timing wasn’t right for her to go to school. She dropped out, married her high school sweetheart, and became a working mother of two.
Years later, she watched her eldest daughter graduate from the College of Idaho in 2018, and it hit her – Gabrielle wanted to walk across that stage too someday. She had spent long enough feeling “marginalized” in the workforce as “a woman without an education”. Gabrielle decided she needed to finish what she started. It was time to go back to school.
“I can do hard things”
Gabrielle started with two classes at Boise State in the spring of 2019 and quickly realized that a lot had changed in the academic world since she’d taken a pause. “There was no MLA or Chicago style when I left college.” She also started to recognize that it could be a significant challenge for professors to teach classes that included both nontraditional students, like herself, and students fresh out of high school.
Presented with these initial challenges, she thought, “Nope, this isn’t for me.” But with the support of her family, Gabrielle realized that her life experience was an asset and that she could face this new, sometimes intimidating, challenge.
“I can do hard things” became her mantra.
When Covid struck and classes went online, Gabrielle saw it as a blessing in disguise. The opportunity to continue learning through online classes provided the comfortable and less intimidating environment she needed to feel confident in her studies. Fast forward to today, Gabrielle now plays a part in developing the online programs she benefitted from by working for the eCampus Center. She does research and data analytics to make online programs the best they can be at Boise State to help students like herself.
Even with her successes along the way, the first-generation college student was constantly questioning whether she was good enough or if she belonged at Boise State. Now, she recognizes that she often stood in her own way and that her self-doubt became her biggest roadblock. Yet she found confidence and support through her instructors, especially Ashley Nichols. “I do have a professor who keeps reminding me that I need to be more confident, that I’m actually doing really well, that I’m graduating in the top 10% of graduate students, that I’m graduating with honors.”
Three weeks shy of her fiftieth birthday, Gabrielle earned her undergraduate degree in multidisciplinary studies, including a minor in criminal justice and certificates in conflict management and leadership in action. Then, she hit the ground running and headed straight for grad school.
Navigating the nontraditional experience
“Once you slip out of being a new student, there really is this nebulous space where you exist as a nontraditional student, especially in grad school.” Gabrielle was inspired to bring awareness to the nontraditional student experience, make resources more accessible, and make recommendations for better resources Boise State could offer.
She wishes Boise State’s resources could be more “funneled and focused” for students with paths similar to hers. Some resources that she recommends include the Writing Center to help students with the writing process, new student resources, and the Educational Access Center which offers advocacy tools for students.
Gabrielle thinks that Boise State could focus more on a nontraditional student’s entire college experience rather than just the first few months. “If I could wave a magic wand and have a department and budget of my choosing, I would think that having a department for nontraditional students would be really awesome and having a physical space for nontraditional students to commune and partner and collaborate.”
Outside of school, Gabrielle does feel like she’s been a part of the Boise community since she grew up here. “I love Boise State. I used to play on the campus as a kid. I love how much it’s grown and how it’s so growth-focused. It’s such a neat resource and so accessible. I loved raising kids here I felt like it was great. It has enough culture and opportunities, but it also has that small town kind of vibe to it.”
However, in the classroom is a different story. “Other people were uncomfortable with me. They didn’t know what to say to me.” She noticed that she didn’t have a lot in common with many of her classmates, but she learned a valuable lesson about learning to work with people who are different from her.
Stepping into Leadership
Having a part in changing the world through leadership and working with like-minded people has been the most impactful experience for Gabrielle at Boise State.
Her education came full circle when she got the opportunity to exercise her leadership skills by leading a discussion group for UF class. “It was pretty surreal at first. I was pretty nervous.” But teaching got easier the more she did it and pushed herself. “I never thought about teaching ever before…and I totally love it.”
As she speaks into the lives of first-year students, she gets to reflect on her own college experience and growth. She remembers being in the same position as the new students she teaches thinking that she couldn’t do it. Yet she didn’t give up. She wants other students to do the same.
“Nontraditional students, you’re not in this alone. There is a community of people who want to help you.” The way Gabrielle sees it, the people and resources exist, but it’s just a matter of figuring out how to connect the two.
Gabrielle’s word of advice to other students would be: “Students in general, embrace the diversity of your classrooms. We all make a much richer academic environment.”
Carving her own path
Gabrielle didn’t have a typical or easy path to college, but that didn’t stop her from reaching her goals, conquering challenges to be the first in her family to go to college, and getting her master’s.
She’s grateful for the instructors in her program that played a significant role in giving her the help and understanding she needed to go through school while working full-time and taking care of her family.
She recognizes that she’s lucky to have a support system cheering her on through the ups and downs of going back to school. “I didn’t have a clear path for college, I really had to carve out a path for myself. But, I didn’t do it alone. I did it with the support of my family. And if I didn’t have my husband, my kids and my mentor Ashley Nichols to support me and encourage me, I would never have made it this far.”
This nontraditional student can indeed do hard things.