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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Sunflower Spotlight: Associate director of Office of Online and Adult Learning discusses passion for helping adult learners 

Monique Bever
Pamela O’Neal responds to an interview question for The Sunflower’s podcast. O’Neal is the associate director of student engagement for the Office of Online and Adult Learning.

This week, we sat down with Pamela O’Neal, associate director of the Office of Online and Adult Learning at Wichita State. O’Neal discussed her recent achievement of earning the Adult Learners Advocate Certification from the Urban Adult Learners Institute, also known as UALI. 

Below is a Q&A between The Sunflower and O’Neal, listen to the full episode here. 

The Sunflower: Well, fun fact about Pamela. She is also no stranger to The Sunflower. I actually had the chance to sit down with you last semester to interview you for a story about the Adult Learning Cookbook.

Pamela O’Neal: You know, I love to cook. I love to bake. And being that adult learner, I know how busy people can be with full-time jobs, raising a family, whatever it is. They’re adult learners ; What we call our “and” students. They are spouses “and” students. They are employers or employees “and” students. It’s always something else that they’re doing. So (we’re) trying to find something to help them. And for me, it was always, “What do I? What am I making for dinner? Not only for myself, but maybe for families.” And so that’s why we (Office of Online and Adult Learning) have that cookbook, and that was fun to do as well. 

SF: Tell us a little bit more about yourself and what your role is at Wichita State. 

PO: So, as associate director for the Office of Online and Adult Learning in the student engagement role, I’m always looking for ways to engage our students, like through the cookbook, or we have monthly giveaways that I try to bring our adult learners in. We have free coffee, free printing, and trying to be that, well, like, what I did here for UALI is being that advocate. 

I’ve always said I’m an advocate for adult learners. And this badge is just that proof that not only myself but others recognize that I’m here to advocate for our adult learners at Wichita State.

SF: I love that there’s a badge for that because I feel like adult learners are often forgotten about. 

PO: Sure. And yeah, you’re absolutely right. And I was kind of guilty of the same thing I see in our students and for other people thinking, “Well, they’re adults. They know all the answers,” which couldn’t be farther from the truth because often they’re out 10, 15 years. And if you think about the changes we’ve seen, not only in a university setting, but here at Wichita State, you come back if you were here 10, 15 years ago, now the campus looks totally different, and honestly, our office didn’t exist until 2015. Basically, “Here’s your place.” And so there are so many resources, and we try to serve as that place. If you don’t know what’s available, come see me. Come see our office. We’re helping you. 

SF: I didn’t know that the Office of Online and Adult Learning didn’t exist until 2015. 

PO: Yeah, so actually, Online is actually, they are celebrating their 10th year this year, but yeah, because we used to be separate offices, the Office of Adult Learning didn’t exist till 2015. So, there’s a couple of dates there. 

Of course, adult learners have always existed, right? But we are one of the few universities that I’ve seen — because I go to a lot of conferences — that actually do this for our adult learners, that have a place just for them, and that’s really important to be by your peers. And I always tell our students what the traditional age students — they’re great. They can help us through technology. I have three very hardworking, traditionally-aged-student-assistants in my office. But sometimes you want to be around that person who’s your age, and rightfully so, and so that’s why another reason why we exist is to help adult learners find other adult learners. 

Well, there may be about 20% of adult learners in the undergraduate population. It isn’t always easy. That means that you may not be in another class with an adult learner. You might be, but you might not know it. So I try to highlight our adult learners and say, “Hey, here’s an adult learner. Go be friends.” 

SF: So what would you say is traditionally aged students? 

PO: So there are definitions, and basically, it’s 18 to 23 years old. Now, there are other traditional definitions, and we can go down all the points of being an adult learner, but it’s basically, especially here at Wichita State, 24 or older, obtaining a bachelor’s degree. So military and veteran students are all — almost, 90, I would say 99% of the time, they’re going to be an adult learner by default, right? They’ve gone and served their country, and they’re coming back to get a new degree. 

We also recognize our independent students who maybe had that independent status that is an adult learner because they’ve had to go out by themselves. Whatever circumstances are, you know, they’re probably holding down a job. They’ve had to do it all by themselves. So they actually fall in that category as well. 

SF: So would you consider those obtaining a graduate degree that are 24 or older and have gone into the workforce, would you consider those adult learners or not? 

PO: Not normally, but I will tell you this: anybody that comes through that door — and Grace Wilkie Annex, soon to be in the Shocker Success Center — I’m going to help you, whether it’s an adult learner who is looking for graduate school or whether that be a master’s or doctorate, or if it’s a traditional age student. I have nieces and nephews that are first-generation, and so they always come to me for those questions, and I’m going to help anybody I can in any way I can. My specialty and my passion is adult learners. 

SF: We are so glad that this office and resource exists. So would you like to go into a little bit more detail on the Adult Learner Advocate certification?

PO: Sure. That was so fun to be introduced to UALI, the Urban Adult Learner Institute, and I have to give a good shout-out there because they were formed through the urban-serving universities, and Wichita State is an urban-serving university. So when I found out about Urban Adult Learner Institute, man, I jumped on that as quick as I could. And it was really cool because it was, ‘Oh my gosh, look, there are other people.’ And yes, I go to conferences, and I talk to other people who are serving adult learners. But it’s great to see this organization really putting stuff, for lack of better words, out there about our adult learners — they, too, have a podcast.

And so I had to earn four badges to get the adult learner advocate badge, and one of them, one of the badges, was to listen to the podcast and the students and to hear their stories. And for one, that was really cool because I’m not only learning more things because adult learners are ever-evolving, just like everyone is, but it was like, “Okay, what are some new ways to think about how I serve these students.” 

As I was listening to their podcast, I was really taking notes in the back of my mind going, “Okay, we could do this for our podcast.” They went to their homes and really profiled the adult learner and what they’re doing, right? 

And so there were another, another one that I’m still working on, I haven’t earned the badge yet, but it’s like getting a map of all the places adult learners would use not only here on campus but close by. And so you think of what an adult learner might want to do and see. So you’re thinking family-oriented activities — a lot of times down in the basement in the Shocker Lanes and Grill. That’s a great place for adult learners when they can take their kids there. They can do their studying there, but it’s just finding those places, where else does an adult learner want to be? And what are the highlights? 

And so, as I go back to my time, I think, “Okay, what did I do? What did I find most helpful as an adult learner?” Deep diving into those, whether it be a podcast or the readings about how are, what are other institutions doing to serve adult learners, and what can we do differently or better to serve them? 

SF: So what is the podcast that the UALI has? Is it streaming anywhere?

PO: Yeah … if you Google “UALI podcast,” you can probably come up with it because it’s just great to hear those stories, and like I said, the way that they’re told, you can tell they’re in their homes, and they’re getting their kids ready for the day, and they’re also talking about, okay, not only are they getting their kids ready and they’re helping their kids study, but they’re doing the same thing. So it’s just a really cool podcast. And yes, I like podcasts.  

SF: That’s awesome. That’s cool that they go into the students’ homes and really profile them and really get a glimpse of what their day is like with getting their kids ready for school.

PO: Right, and even if I can’t do that, what I can do is take parts of that and tell them — like for us, for our “Shockers Learning Out Loud” podcast, we often talk about our adult learners, and so I’m thinking, you know, … Maybe it’s even just such a question where I’m like, “Tell us about your day. What is your day look like as an adult learner?” So, I guess it’s always all about learning, right? 

SF: So where can people learn more about the UALI and the Adult Learner Certificate? 

PO: So sure, they can always contact me because I have all the information. My email address is [email protected], or call me at 978-8315. 

But once again, I’m a big fan of the Googler, right? I’m always Googling. But yeah, if they Google “UALI, adult learner badge,” … that’ll take them right there to them. 

And like I said before, UALI is that part of that urban-serving university. So, if you’re listening to this, and you’re at Wichita State, either a student, maybe you’re an adult learner yourself, or you’re a staff member, faculty member, and you’re like, “You know what? I know adult learners and I want to learn a little bit more,” it’s a perfect place to go. 

SF: That’s wonderful. We’ve been touching on the “Shockers Learning Out Loud” podcast throughout this episode, so tell us a little bit more about it, and when it started, and how long has it been going on for.

PO: So it started, I think we are now on our second season. So we started back in the fall of 2023. And, for me, I love adult learner stories, and they’ve got some good stories. I mean, we have students who have been formerly incarcerated and are coming back and getting their degrees. And we had students, I had one that graduated not too long ago — his parents immigrated from Mexico. He wound up on the streets of Wichita, homeless and a former addict, and he came to Wichita State. Now he’s getting his law degree, and through Wichita State, he was able to secure a $10,000 annual scholarship to do so. So these are students out there that, you know, sometimes they’re grandparents, and they’ve got kids living at home with their grandkids living at home with them. 

And sometimes we can throw ourselves a pity party, right? And I’m really good at that. Before this podcast started, we were talking about technology and how it failed me yesterday. And for a while, I really did want to go down that pity party avenue, right? Just say, “Oh, man,” but you start talking to these adult learners who have overcome just what seems to me to be insurmountable odds, and they’re doing it with such style and grace. 

And I mean, so many of our adult learners are out there with a 3.0 to 4.0 grade point average because they really, really want this, and I’m trying to put those stories out there in a format that is accessible to everyone, and boy, I do love me some podcasts. 

As I said earlier, my parents live about 45 minutes from where I live, and so all I have to do on the way there is listen to a podcast, and I know the drive so well. I could almost do it in my sleep, right? So I’ve been on that podcast, and it’s another way to learn while I’m driving. And what a better way to tell the stories of our adult learners who are so busy that sometimes, that’s what they’re doing. They’re maybe making dinner for their family, and that’s their time, and they can listen to a podcast. And so I’m always looking for new avenues to tell stories. 

Like I said, I, as a graduate –I’m a graduate of the Elliott School — very proud of that. And that’s something that the Elliott School does well, is tell those stories. And so I feel like it is not only my duty but what an honor to tell these stories and to tell them right. And so if I can have the adult learner there sitting beside me telling their story — then I know I’m doing it right. 

So, yeah, I love that podcast. And it’s not always an adult learner sitting there telling their story. Sometimes we have the offices we work with, like I had my friend, Chad Steinkamp, on there from admissions. And I just got off the phone yesterday with someone who was, you know, “How do I go about applying to Wichita State?” they’ve been out for a while, and it looks totally different. And so I’m always highlighting offices and resources for those adult learners, and tell them the story. That’s what I’m trying to do. 

SF: And telling a story is the best way to tell someone who is possibly going through the same thing. “Hey, you’re not alone.” And that’s what’s amazing about storytelling. 

PO: Yes. You know, I can throw you all kinds of stats all day long, right? And don’t get me wrong, I love me some stats. I know how important they are, but a lot of times, you can go down one road or the other one. I can tell you stats, or I can tell you a story. I can almost guarantee what’s going to have more impact is that story about that one person who was formerly incarcerated, who now has her grandkids living with her, and who is getting her degree in social work at 53 (or) 54 years old. That’s the story that I want to tell. 

SF: So where can people go to listen to the Shockers Learning Out Loud podcast?  

PO: I know it’s through, I believe, WSUTV. I rely on my student assistants so much. They’re the ones that put them up there. But yeah, you can go to any place where you listen to your podcast and type in “Shockers Learning Out Loud,” and boom, there we are. You’ll see my smiling face. You’ll see my co-host, Dr. Amber Anderson, and whomever may be our guest for that day. But yeah, “Shockers Learning Out Loud.” Check it out. My advice. 

SF: Awesome. Is there anything you would like to discuss that we did not touch on in this interview at all?

PO: Not really. I would just say if there are adult learners listening — and this is something that I do all the time – come to Grace Wilkie Annex, until the summer of 2024 coming up, and come see us, find out what we can do for you because that’s my job. My job is to do whatever I can and to advocate for adult learners. I’ll be here as long as the university doesn’t kick me out, advocating and telling the stories of our adult learners. I believe we’ll be in the Shocker Success Center by late summer, but contact me or come see us. 

To learn more about the UALI Adult Learners Certification, go to usucoalition.org/uali or contact Pamela O’Neal by phone at (316) 978-8315 or by email at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Monique Bever
Monique Bever, Reporter
Monique Bever is a reporter and photographer for the Sunflower. Bever is a sophomore majoring in philosophy pursuing a career in law. She uses she/her pronouns.

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