Irene Lewis studies in the Academic Support Center
Irene Lewis is usually among the first to arrive at Daytona State College’s Academic Support Center every morning before her classes start. The place has become her home away from home as she pursues her Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management degree.
“I love it there,” she said, noting why she also volunteers her time in the ASC to befriend and assist students. “It’s like a sanctuary for me and for so many of the kids I’ve come to know at the college. Some of them come in and they are so afraid. College is completely new to them and we all know that changes don’t come easy.”
College is nothing new to Irene Lewis, though. (She earned her cosmetology certificate and associate degrees in microelectronics and nursing nearly 30 years ago.) In fact, at 90 years old, nothing much comes new to her, these days. She’s been there and done that, and isn’t afraid to say so or express her opinion about everything from national politics and the ills of society to the promise of today’s young generation and what they need to succeed in life – mainly encouragement and the comfort in knowing that someone genuinely cares about them and is ready to help.
“For example, I have a good chance to get to know many of the kids who come into the ASC,” she said. “Many are like deer frozen in the headlights. They lack confidence. They are having a hard time growing up. They’re literally lost. College is so new to them. They come into the ASC and it’s like a family. You’re not a lost soul here. You don’t have to be afraid to ask questions, and these kids are drinking it up.”
Daytona State operates ASCs at all of its campuses. Their operational models and best practices in providing academic support to students have been nationally recognized by numerous educational organizations and professional associations.
One common bond Lewis shares with many of her fellow students is the challenges life can bring when one least expects it. In fact, it was one of those challenges that brought her back to school last year.
She was filling a tire with air one day several years ago when it exploded, severely damaging both her hands. The reconstructive surgery and long recovery that followed threatened to compromise her long-sustained independence. She saw herself becoming more and more isolated.
“I came back to school to save my mind,” she said. “I have a home, I’m on a fixed income, I’ve been independent all my life. But my mind began going after the accident because I couldn’t do lots of the things I used to be able to do. I realized that in order to save myself, I had to do something away from the house.”
She chose Daytona State’s BAS program because she wants to develop her business skills and become an advocate for spinal cord research, a cause close to her heart that goes back to her years as a practicing registered nurse. “This was never about coming back to school to make money,” she said. “I have more years behind me than I have ahead of me – at least I think I do – and I want to be able to communicate with educated, knowledgeable people who can help move spinal cord research forward. If I can do that, I’ll go to heaven with wings on.”
She let out a giggle and brought the conversation back to the college, its staff and its faculty. “These folks are willing to go above and beyond to help students,” she said. “They are sincerely bent on making this a good place, a place where students can start new lives. “
Her advice to anyone thinking about attending or returning to college: “Hey, go for it! Tell your boss that you are going back to school and you would like to have them work with you. Most will do it. If not, there are resources available here that can help you. All you need to do is knock on the door.”
But she initially scoffed at the notion that her story might serve as inspiration for others to follow their dreams. “Well, I don’t know,” she said, reconsidering. “Maybe. I hope so. If I can help one or two, inspire one or two to stay in school or get back in school, it would be just like saving a life.”