Pursuing passions: Students change career paths to follow old and new ambitions sparked by creative interests

Over the 5,000 students currently enrolled at the University of Indianapolis, a significant portion are adult learners. Most commonly, adult learners are students who pursued careers outside of the field they now study. These students have decided to earn a college degree later in life rather than traditional students, either in a new career or honing their skills or passions during retirement.

Patrick Handlon returned to school to study art after a business career. Photo by Ki Tally

There are a variety of reasons that adult learners decide to re-enroll in college courses or begin a degree. For many, it is a change to pursue passions that were pushed aside in favor of what they originally perceived as a more practical option.

This was the case for art major Patrick Handlon, who spent years teaching business before deciding to return to school and earn a degree in art.

“I’ve always liked art more than business, but you know, when you’re younger and people say ‘You’ll never make it in art, you have to have something practical,’ so you do something practical,” Handlon said. “Business paid the bills, but it wasn’t something that was fulfilling at all.”

Handlon originally received a business bachelor’s from Indiana Tech and worked in retail for 25 years before he began teaching business at the high school level. Handlon has already earned a master’s degree in teaching from UIndy but is now earning an art degree. He said he hopes he will be able to teach art after graduating.

“I’ve always wanted to be an artist. And I’ve always been an artist, I suppose, but without the training,” Handlon said. “I wanted to teach art, but the only way that you can teach art is if you have an art degree.”

Handlon said UIndy was an obvious choice when it came to deciding on a college. The small size allows him to receive individual attention from his professors, something that he said has been enormously beneficial to him both as a student and an artist.

“The art department especially… all those teachers know each other, they know all the students,” Handlon said. “You get to know them and they know your skills and they know what you need to work on.”

Like Handlon, Joseph Raymond chose to attend UIndy following decades in the workforce. A Vietnam-era Navy veteran, Raymond attended college in Washington, Oregon and California. After he “ran out of money,” Raymond worked and volunteered in a number of different ways, but he spent the bulk of his career, 35 years total, in the screen printing industry. In 2014, however, Raymond said that changes in the screen printing industry led him to explore the possibility of going back to school.

Undergrad Joseph Raymond said he likes to make practical ceramics. Photo by Jayden Kennett

“Really, it started in 2008 when I went through multiple downsizings as the screen printing industry went away. And you get to these places where you’re not working and you’re analyzing your life,” Raymond said. “It’s very common for people my age to feel like they [have] become irrelevant. So you started looking for how to maintain your relevancy and then you start looking at what job, skills you do have or other ways that you have to contribute.”

After touring the campus and finding it to his liking, Raymond applied to UIndy with a plan to major in an area related to the pastoral music ministry. While he had a love for music, Raymond said he lacked the training to be competitive at it. He recently decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in art and said that he has become enamored with ceramics. Working with clay helps with chronic pain in his wrists, Raymond said, and has been therapeutic to him. Although he only recently switched his major to art, Raymond said that he hopes to go on to earn a graduate degree in the field.

“What I’m really trying to do is just find a degree track that actually keeps me excited about my passions and also helps me sharpen tools and now I’m going to be able to use,” Raymond said. “[For example] ceramics wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t know I was going to be taking ceramics classes….I had no idea I was a potter but it seems to be a bit in my DNA. I’m already fairly certain that I will be supplementing my retirement after I finish academically with pottery.”

The experience of returning to college life is new to theatre major Rick Shaw, even if the campus is not.

Rick Shaw worked as a hospice chaplain before returning to UIndy. Photo by Ki Tally

Shaw attended UIndy from 1970-1974 and graduated with a degree in human relations. He said he felt called by his faith to work in ministry, and he spent time as a youth pastor and an ordained minister. For the past 22 years, Shaw worked as a hospice chaplain.

Shaw decided to major in theatre so that he could work on building sets. Now that he is retired, Shaw said he does not feel the same pressure that he did when he first attended UIndy. He is enjoying himself, he said, and if he was not, there would be no reason for him to remain enrolled at the university.

“It’s been a lot of fun. I just enjoy learning,” Shaw said. “I haven’t read much of anything for 22 years and after I came here, I really wanted to learn about what I was going to be studying. I’ve read like four books that were not required, related to design and theatre…”

While he said his work in the ministry was fulfilling and played well to his skills, Shaw decided after retiring to spend his time on lighter activities and explore another one of his passions: building.

“I’ve always liked designing. Actually before I decided to go into ministry—which I thought that was a calling—I actually thought I’d go into being an architect,” Shaw said. “Always, even when I see old buildings I think ‘how could I rebuild that? How could I redesign that?’ Even when I wasn’t doing anything I would always be looking at things thinking ‘How could I do that, or design that?’ Or if something’s broken I’m always thinking ‘How can I fix that or how can I make that to something useful?’”

Although Shaw said he has always had a natural ability to design structures and envision renovations, he never had professional training. Once he earns his degree, Shaw said he hopes that he can put his new knowledge to use.

“Maybe in a year or two I’ll have enough experience and knowledge to design some set from some non-profit or church or whatever group,” Shaw said. “Then maybe in four years I’ll have enough experience [for someone] to actually pay me to do that.”

Shaw, Raymond and Handlon all said that they think more adults should consider returning to college, whether to revive old skills or to learn new ones.

“It’s never too late,” Handlon said. “I know you’ve heard that phrase where they say that life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s kind of that thing. It’s never too late to do what you want to do and be happy.”