Charlene Kaufman ended 2009 on a high note. In December, she participated in the University of Southern Indiana's fall Commencement, graduating cum laude with a Bachelor's Degree in General Studies (BGS).
The BGS program is a customized degree program for working adults. It is designed for students who have prior college experience, career limitations due to the absence of a bachelor's degree, and a desire to complete courses that will meet degree requirements while impacting their career goals.
In 1976, Kaufman received a certificate in dental assisting from Indiana State University Evansville, known today as USI. She moved to Boulder, Colorado for a part-time dental assisting position and attended Colorado University to work on a bachelor's degree. Before completing the degree, she moved back to Evansville to manage a small grocery store her parents owned. Two years later, Kaufman found herself back in the dental assisting field only to find that it was no longer for her.
After ending her dental assisting career, Kaufman landed a job at Comair Airlines, an airline headquartered at the Cincinnati Airport in Northern Kentucky. She started out as a van driver and over a 15-year span worked her way up to performance and analysis manager. In 2003, along with many other Comair managers, Kaufman's position was eliminated. "At 48 years old I was too young to retire," said Kaufman. "I tried to find a comparable position and found I couldn't get an interview because I didn't have a degree."
While working as an assistant manager at KB Toys, Kaufman decided to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational leadership at Northern Kentucky University. Six months later, KB Toys went out of business and Kaufman had to change her plans again. She attended a community college during the day while working a temporary position at night. Eventually she moved back to Evansville to be near her family.
Kaufman began taking classes at USI in 2005 and was hired as a student worker by Lee Ann Wambach, academic program manager in Extended Services. The following year, Kaufman joined the USI family full-time as senior administrative assistant in Extended Services. Seeing how the BGS program would be a good fit for her, she began taking courses towards the degree.
"The BGS program allows a student to start their degree from scratch or to add to what they have started and select courses based on their career goals or interests," said Kaufman. As a BGS student, Kaufman has become involved with STELLAR (Students and Elderly Linking Around Relationships), a student group that focuses on developing positive relationships between students and elders through community based activities. The program allows students to work with the elderly to create a positive atmosphere while becoming aware of their needs.
Kaufman has also traveled to Jamaica with a Global Social Work class to work with orphanages in Mandeville. She has also traveled to France to do volunteer work with Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers, a faith based organization that serves the sick and suffering.
During her employment with the University, Kaufman has been involved as secretary on Staff Council and currently serves on the employee relations committee, the EEO appeal and hearing board, the nominating committee, and the web committee.
Kaufman has a long-term career goal of becoming an advocate for the elderly and their caregivers. One day, she would like to open a retreat center for caregivers, giving them a place to replenish their mind, body, and spirit through prayer, reflection, and meditation. She plans to spend the spring semester preparing for the GRE and selecting a master's program that will help her achieve these goals.
When asked for advice she would give other adults who are thinking about returning to college, Kaufman said, "Don't delay, the sooner you start the sooner you will have your degree. Your life experiences will be your greatest asset to help you achieve your goals."