by Colton Campbell
Carrie Tarpley is a non-traditional student in more ways than one.
The University of West Georgia student - the mother of two daughters, one 21 years old and the other 16 years old - is one of six students in the fifth cohort of the Southwire Sustainable Business Honors Program (SSBHP) in the Richards College of Business. Tarpley is the program's first non-traditional student, meaning she did not enroll in post-secondary education immediately following high school.
In fact, Tarpley waited more than two decades after graduating from high school to sign up for college classes.
"I was a home-school mom for my daughters until my oldest daughter graduated in 2015," said Tarpley, who resides in Carrollton and works as a student assistance in the Richards College of Business dean's office. "As my first daughter went off to college and my younger daughter matured, I found myself not having as much to do as I used to. I couldn't do that anymore, so I decided I had to get a job."
Tarpley couldn't get the job she wanted, though, without a degree. She enrolled at West Georgia Technical College, took a few courses she could transfer to UWG and eventually started seeking an accounting degree at the university in fall 2017.
"Up until the point I decided to further my education, my life had followed a pretty standard progression," said Tarpley, who graduated high school in 1994, got married in 1995 and had her first child in 1996. "College was never on my radar growing up because it wasn't as necessary to a livelihood as it is now. You better believe I've preached the importance of further education to my daughters so they don't wind up waiting 20 years to go back to school."
Now Tarpley's in classes with students who are her daughter's age. She calls them "youngsters."
SSBHP is an ambitious program for students who carry the same characteristic. The program allows students to earn their bachelor's and master's degrees - as well as a sustainability certificate - in four years, the conventional amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor's degree.
"It's already been quite a roller coaster ride, to say the least," Tarpley said of her time in the program since last fall. "One great thing about being in the program is that it takes all the stress out of course scheduling. I know what classes I'm going to take and generally when I'm going to take them, rather than starting from scratch when I have to register each semester."
After she graduates from UWG with her bachelor's degree in 2020 and her master's degree in 2021, Tarpley would like to work in an office environment, bringing her most prominent skill of organization.
"I've always been an organized person, even since I was a child," said Tarpley, who keeps a color-coded calendar that shows her classes and work hours in the dean's office. "I'd love to help an office become more organized and efficient so they can increase their productivity and fulfill their mission more effectively. That's the goal."
As for what she does when she makes it home after classes and working in the dean's office - aside from a full load of homework and studying, of course - Tarpley said her house has gotten "a little messy," but being such an organized person, her definition of messiness isn't conventional.
"There's always a few dishes in the sink that need to be washed, and I haven't gotten to cook dinner as much as I like, but my family has been nothing but incredibly supportive of my journey and what I'm working toward," Tarpley said.