Marlene Stern-Jimenez is a non-traditional student at UW-Stevens Point, making the most of her time to complete a degree in social work and volunteer to help others in her community.

Marlene Stern-Jimenez is a nontraditional student at UW-Stevens Point, making the most of her time to complete a degree in social work and volunteer to help others in her community.

Marlene Stern-Jimenez, Stevens Point, says she has always been a nontraditional student.

Married a few years out of high school, she was a full-time student while raising two boys and living in Florida, Arizona and Texas. That continued until she went through a divorce, as she had to work two jobs to support her children. She had earned 33 credits but didn’t complete her degree.

Stern-Jimenez remarried in 2007, and after moving and living all over the country in support of her husband’s career in radio, she went back to school at Colorado Mesa University to finish her associates degree in liberal arts.

Now age 65, the non-traditional University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point junior is determined to check another task off her bucket list – completing her undergraduate degree.

“There were always three things I knew I wanted to do,” she said. “To be a DJ. I’ve always been obsessed with radio. Clowning. I wanted to go to Clown College, but my parents would not allow it. And have always wanted to be a social worker. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve been involved in my community through being a part of a church soup kitchen or food pantry. It’s all about helping people by getting involved to provide basic needs.”

social work major, with minors in sociology and child, youth and family studies, Stern-Jimenez plans to graduate from UW-Stevens Point in May 2025. She is looking forward to spending her last year in an internship, working in hospice, with veterans or with the aging and disabled. In the meantime, she is doing all she can to help improve the lives of others on campus and in the community.

Stern-Jimenez moved to Stevens Point in the spring of 2022 and decided it was time to step back into the classroom. With encouragement from her husband, she began looking into programs, considering UW-Madison. Then she learned more about UWSP from a woman she met at a local gardening center whose husband taught at the university.

“I met with a UWSP admissions counselor, and my mind was changed right away,” she said. “I knew I wanted to attend here and become more invested in my own community.”

Her academic journey, already full of twists and turns, took one more at UW-Stevens Point when she spent her first year as a family and consumer sciences major, then changed it to social work.

“I got a great foundation in family and consumer sciences,” she said. She also gained friends and experiences when she joined the FCS student organization, the University Council on Family Relations (UCFR), as a first-year transfer student. She became the group’s volunteer coordinator and continues as an active member and volunteer.

“The premise of UCFR and the volunteer work that we do closely relates to the foundations of sociology and social work, so there is much to learn,” she said. She enjoys attending conferences and events with her younger UCFR peers.

“It was uncomfortable being so much older and was a little different for me,” she said, “but we enjoy our time being involved together. I may not live in a dorm, but I get to have this as part of my college experience.”

Calling her social work professors “amazing and passionate,” Stern-Jimenez is enjoying learning about the ethics of social work and studying how ethical dilemmas might play out in her future profession.

“Marlene sets a positive tone in the classroom,” said Social Work Associate Professor Jess Bowers. “On the first day of class, I overheard her offering kind words of support to the people around her, and she has maintained that peer support since the very first class. She has played a significant role in creating a classroom culture where she and her peers share personal anecdotes, take intellectual risks, and engage in class content on a deeper level. I believe she is going to make an incredible impact in our profession.”

Off campus, Stern-Jimenez volunteers at the Interfaith Food Panty and with the Stevens Point Noon Optimist Club. Looking for even more opportunities to help in the community, she took a role with UWSP Campus Activities and Student Engagement (CASE) as the volunteer and special events coordinator.

“Having a student spend time with the residents puts a smile on their face and means the world to them,” she said. “If that’s all I accomplish at UWSP, then I’m really proud of myself. I want to help get students engaged in new ways, on or off campus.”

She organizes student visits to local senior residences, moving the “Sunday with Seniors” event to Saturday to get more facility residents involved when the Packers weren’t playing. Many of the student volunteers are UCFR members. She is also scheduling times for UWSP A Capella and dance groups to perform for the seniors.

As part of her CASE role, she helps with pop up shops for The Closet, a free second-hand clothing resource for students. She is also planning The Spirit of Giving event, at which students can paint bowls for the next Empty Bowls event and make holiday cards for veterans, and an alternative spring break trip to Memphis..

“I’ll be heading there with my boss, Marisa (the student employment and volunteering program manager), driving two vans with 12 students for a Mississippi River clean up project. I’m so excited to have a great time and do good work.”

Not one to give up her dreams, Stern-Jimenez has checked another item off her bucket list. In 2012, she attended a clown school in Grand Junction, Colo. Before moving from the area, she used her talents at parties and assisted living facilities.

For her 65th birthday this summer, her husband surprised her with a week at the Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp near Annandale, Minn., driving her there then returning for the Big Show at the end.

“It was absolutely amazing,” she said. “It was so much fun. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, next to going back to school.” She plans to attend again next summer to learn how to be Caring Clown that can volunteer in hospitals such as Marshfield Children’s.

The secretary for the Alliance for Non-Traditional Students, Stern-Jimenez encourages other non-traditional students to get involved in the group and others on campus.

“It’s important to me to reach out to other non-traditional students like me, so they’re aware of how many resources are available to them at UWSP” she said. “Engagement is important for all students, no matter the age.”

There isn’t much that Stern-Jimenez can’t do when she puts her mind to it. All she needs now is an opportunity to be a DJ and she can go three-for-three.

Written by UW-Stevens Point

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