U.S. Navy veteran is named Penn State Outstanding Adult Student

Third time is the charm for adult learner Eric Gayle, who began college 21 years ago and is poised to complete his Penn State degree in 2011

University Park, Pa. -- When Eric Gayle began his first semester at Penn State York after graduating from Susquehannock High School in 1989, he realized he wasn’t ready for college. After four years in the U.S. Navy, he re-enrolled at Penn State, but left again to take a job to support his family. A layoff prompted Gayle to try Penn State a third time. For his perseverance, Gayle has been honored with the 2010 Outstanding Adult Student Award.

The award recognizes an exceptional adult learner at University Park campus who has begun or resumed their education after the age of 24, after being out of high school for four or more years, and who demonstrates initiative in overcoming obstacles to furthering their education, while serving as a role model for other adult learners, achieving academic excellence and contributing to their community.

“Adult learners bring their diverse experiences, thoughts and leadership into the classroom,” said Craig D. Weidemann, vice president for Outreach. “To achieve their education goals, they also often have to make sacrifices and balance very busy lives. Eric Gayle is just such a learner. He exemplifies the Penn State adult learner.”

Leslie A. Laing, coordinator for Adult Learner Programs and Services for Penn State’s Division of Student Affairs, organizes the annual award recognition program. She praised Gayle, noting he has “demonstrated superior courage and perseverance amidst personal struggles in order to live out his educational dream.”

Gayle’s first attempt at college wasn’t a success.

“I was young and didn’t focus,” he said. He joined the Navy in 1991, serving four years, including as a gunner’s mate on the cruiser U.S.S. Dale, stationed at Naval Station Mayport in Florida. In 1996, Gayle returned to Penn State York, using his GI Bill benefits.

To support a growing family that includes his wife Gina and children Zachary, Hannah and Micayla, Gayle left Penn State again to work in excavation and construction. But when he was laid off in 2008, Gayle realized it was time to finish his bachelor’s degree. He re-enrolled at Penn State York and also completed physics and calculus courses at Penn State Harrisburg, so that he could apply to the chemical engineering program in the College of Engineering at University Park campus.

Gayle and his family moved to State College in 2009, so he could focus full time on his studies.

“I couldn’t do this without my wife and kids’ support,” said Gayle, 39. He also credits his academic success “to the amazing faculty and Department of Chemical Engineering personnel, especially Dr. Darrell Velegol.” Gayle doesn’t know what his first engineering job will be, but is determined to “make a positive impact on the people I work with and my community.”

With his GI Bill benefits running out, Gayle was grateful to be the first recipient of a grant funding the Outstanding Adult Student Award. The new Adult Learner Opportunity Fund seeks to support this award annually. Laing said she established the fund to aid adult learners who often “juggle financial responsibilities, family obligations and studying as they work to complete their degree requirements.” To contribute, visit http://www.givenow.psu.edu/ (select “Other” from the drop down list and type “Adult Learner Opportunity Fund (XXTOF)” on the Additional Information line).

Penn State Division of Student Affairs provides programs and services designed to foster a more positive learning environment and to improve the learning readiness of students. Division departments provide direct services for students seeking counseling, health care, career assistance, student activities, conflict resolution and residence life services. For more information, visit http://www.sa.psu.edu/ online.

Adult Learner Advocacy and Enrollment Services is dedicated to extending and enhancing services to Penn State adult students -- those who are 24 years or older, veterans, returning to college after four or more years of employment or those with multiple life roles. This unit provides more than 13,000 adult undergraduate students throughout the Penn State system with a one-stop environment for accessing all student services. For more information, visit http://www.outreach.psu.edu/adult-learners/ online. Adult Learner Advocacy and Enrollment Services is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010