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Xavier Magazine | November 18, 2017

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Starting Over

By France Griggs Sloat

It took more than 16 years for Gary Brown, a corporate pilot, to figure out what he wanted to do for a living. Finally, at age 40, he made a decision: he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life staring through the windshield of an airplane.

Never mind the fact that he’s flying a Cessna corporate jet that luxuriously seats seven and cost its owner about $5 million. Or that he lives a jet-setter lifestyle, zooming from one big city to the next-Cincinnati to New York to Los Angeles to Dallas. That would be a dream job for most pilots who caught the flying bug in their youth. But for Brown, the dream became routine, and he began to feel something was missing. One day he decided to do something about it.

“Around 1994, I really started to question,” he says. “I said, ‘I just don’t want to do this the rest of my life.’ It was a soul-searching thing. In 1995, I got into the masters program at Xavier. It was about helping people. I had made up my mind I wanted to start working toward another career.”

Brown, who completed his master’s degree in education counseling in 2000 as a commuter student, is in good company. Here, and on campuses nationwide, the number of graduate students is increasing, and many of the newcomers are middle-aged people looking for a change. They are lawyers becoming teachers, corporate professionals becoming coaches, line workers becoming personnel trainers. They are people willing to give up, in some cases, high-powered positions with high-priced salaries in exchange for lower pay and better-though sometimes odd-hours. The reason, they say, is the reward.

Brown, for example, made several changes. After getting his masters, he moved from Indiana to Cincinnati to fly part-time for Clear Channel Communications and enroll in the University’s post master’s clinical endorsement program for counselors. Once licensed as a clinical counselor this summer, he plans to treat adolescents with a variety of unique therapies-including the use of horses. Equine therapy for treatment of behavioral and mental disorders, he says, is a method growing in popularity because of a horse’s natural reaction to a person’s behavior. People must adjust their actions to get calm and trusting reactions from the horse. Brown believes in the method, but whether he can make it work as a career is still unknown. But he is willing to give up flying-what he calls his security blanket-to find out.

The number of graduate students across the country rose 2 percent from 1999 to 2000, says Peter Syverson, vice president for research at the Council of Graduate Schools. All told, there were about 2 million students enrolled in graduate schools nationally last year, including those studying medicine and law. The number is expected to keep rising this year, he says, caused mostly by the softened economy fueled by downsizing, layoffs and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. In fact some teacher education programs reported a flurry of calls in the weeks after Sept. 11 from people suddenly wanting to become teachers after reevaluating their lives, according to reports in The New York Times.

Syverson says many are streaming into graduate school for all the normal reasons-young undergraduates continuing their studies and older workers wanting to upgrade their career credentials. “The third group are the people who want to change careers, and that’s the group that’s very hard to measure,” he says. “Over half of all grad students are over age 30, and 30 percent are over age 40. Graduate students are getting older but at a fairly slow rate. It’s indicative that students later in their careers are coming back to school, and may indicate there is career-switching going on.”

Many students are simply finding the business environment has lost its lure, says Jim Boothe, chair of the department of education. “The appeal of the private sector business industry is not as optimistic as it used to be, and there is a general feeling about what one wants to do with one’s life, especially in light of Sept. 11. It causes people to reassess what they want to do.”

There are 2,684 graduate students this year at the University, and half of them are studying for their masters in education. John Cooper, director for graduate services, says more than a fifth of this year’s 1,366 graduate education students are working toward their initial teacher’s licenses-meaning, they’re changing their careers. “They’re saying, ‘I really want to make a change.’ When they went through undergraduate school, they felt the key was getting into a career that would make good money. What they’ve found is money isn’t everything,” Cooper says.

Bruce Kozerski, former Cincinnati Bengal football player who spent 12 years getting paid to pound on others as an offensive lineman, found that out, too, although by accident. But Kozerski knew his football career wouldn’t last forever.

“I envisioned retiring and working in my contracting business and doing what I wanted,” he says, “but I got involved in coaching, and a friend asked me to teach a couple of classes. I did it and fell in love with the job. It’s the kids. They’re good for me.”

Wanting to continue teaching, he went back to school, completed his licensure requirements and is finishing up his masters in education at Xavier. Now he teaches physics and runs the football program at Holy Cross High School in Covington, Ky., a tiny school whose football program he helped found a few years ago. But the irony of value for pay hasn’t escaped him.

“I made more in one game than I do teaching one year, but I don’t know if the reward was as high,” he says. “At the point I retired, I could have played in golf tournaments all over the country four days a week. But how boring would that have been?”

While most people don’t have to face such extreme choices as Kozerski, many do make the decision to leave what they know so they can do what they want. And the University does what it can to accommodate those who want to change careers by holding many masters level courses in the evenings and on weekends, or offering business courses at GE Aircraft Engines in nearby Evendale.

The convenience helped Greg Grove, an Air Force brat who became a Marine and retired a Lt. Col. last year. He began building a house in Wilmington, Ohio, but then Clinton-Massey High School asked him to be an assistant principal. They liked the idea of a former Marine handling discipline at the school, and they didn’t care that he didn’t have a teaching license. Grove couldn’t resist. “This was too much of a golden opportunity,” he says. So he got a temporary administrative certificate, began his new job at the high school last August, and signed up for the University’s master of education administration program in January.

Being around the students, Grove says, reminds him of working with young Marines. They’re like moldable clay. “It’s wonderful to have someone look up and respect you and see you as an authority figure. And the migration into a secondary career in America has to do with career burnout. You find yourself just looking for a change of pace.”

Anne Marie Mielech was looking for more than a change of pace when she decided to leave her job as a high-salaried attorney bored by insurance defense law. After five years, she switched to juvenile law but found herself searching again after a year of dealing with negative issues of custody, divorce and parental rights. Five years ago, she married and decided to try teaching. She calls it her epiphany.

“My undergraduate [degree] is in English and secondary education, and I never stopped thinking about it,” says Mielech, who is now studying for her master’s degree in English while teaching English at Holy Cross High School. “It is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Instead of dealing with the negativity of custody and taking children away from bad parents, I’ve flipped it, and now I get to promote positive relationships between families. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel.”

George Rathman also left corporate law after five years as an attorney in the international tax accounting department at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. By age 30, he realized it was “too corporate” for him. Plus, he missed coaching high school and summer swim teams, which he dropped because of his busy schedule. To get back into high school coaching, however, he needed a teaching license, so he started looking at area colleges. Coincidentally, the University needed a new swim coach at the same time and offered him an irresistible package-coach of the men’s and women’s swim teams, a job as the University’s National Collegiate Athletic Association compliance coordinator, and tuition reimbursement for his education courses. He said yes, and will complete his master’s degree in elementary education this summer.

“I make less now than when I started at P&G, but what I’m doing is very rewarding and very challenging in a different way,” Rathman says. “I don’t go out to dinner as much, and I used to go to the Aronoff Center [for Performing Arts] often, and I had season tickets to the Reds and Bengals, and all those things went away. You realize you don’t need as much materially.”

Such changes don’t always go so well, though. One graduate student, Sandra Parks, took early retirement from P&G after 28 years with the company in the product delivery division. Older, divorced and a single mom, she returned to the University to complete her bachelors in communications in 1998, graduating cum laude, and jumped right into the Master of Human Resource Development program in 1999. Seeing no room for advancement, she left P&G in October 2000, hoping to turn her new skills into a new career as a personnel trainer. But since she completed the exhaustive program with a 4.0 grade point average last May, she has yet to find a job. Most employers, she’s finding, are looking for trainers with management experience. She also wonders if her age-52-is working against her.

“I’m not going to give up and I would not take this experience back for anything,” she says. “Getting my master’s was for me, and I didn’t know what the future holds.” While she hunts for a job, Parks is working as a substitute teacher in the Cincinnati Public Schools and is enjoying it so much she’s wondering if she should now look into teaching.

To help facilitate such decisions, Boothe and Cooper are investigating more creative options for graduate level study-summer block courses in short concentrated weeks, more basic courses offered at nights and on weekends, and true distance learning online.

For Brown, the chance to face teens and horses every day instead of bug-splattered windshields was worth the wait. He’s just happy he figured out what he wanted to do and had the nerve to try. “It has taken a lot longer than I thought, and I wish I had figured all this out 10 years ago,” he says. “I’m changing my identity, and the money will be different, but it’s important I do what I feel I was put here to do. That’s the gold ring. I feel I’ve gotten to my mission in life and it’s a good feeling.”

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