One of the great things about Georgia State University is there are so many opportunities for student success. One of the lesser-known programs is the GSU62 program, which allows individuals aged 62 and older to enroll in classes and pursue a degree for little to no cost. In the department of Religious Studies, we have had several amazing GSU62 students. In this post, we have an interview with Ed Van Herik, a GSU62 student who started in Religious Studies and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Communications. For more information on GSU62, please go to this website: https://admissions.gsu.edu/bachelors-degree/knowledgebase/gsu-62-program/
How did you find out about the program?
I had been taking courses through The Teaching Company, an online learning site, and it had one on the Study of Religion. I listened to the lectures and decided they seemed to be missing the point of religion. I looked for Religious Studies programs in state schools in Georgia and found out about GSU.
What do you think makes the GSU 62 program great?
It opens up a new world to many who think their life might be winding down as they age and as they retire. It also offers an opportunity to explore interests that may have been shunted aside while building a career, building a family, etc. It offers an exciting, worthwhile escape from a person’s comfort zone, which has often been years in the making.
What are some of the highlights from your experience in the Religious Studies MA program?
I came away with a more rigorous thought process than I had used in years. By focusing on new material, with academic expectations facing me, I found that my sloppy thought processes underwent a quick overhaul.
A couple of events also stand out:
I went overseas to Turkey where we met dozens of people helping refugees from Syria, as well as visiting a number of religious sites in Istanbul, Ankara and Gaziantep. It gave me a visceral understanding of some aspects of Islam that simply hadn’t been on my radar screen beforehand.
I delivered a paper on a panel at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion. I had been involved in developing the idea for the panel and worked with another student to shape up the original proposal before the conference in Atlanta. It was based on her work on her dissertation and my work on my thesis.
What are some things you did in the program that you might not have done otherwise? Did you learn any new skills- tech, etc?
I learned how to teach a class, delivering lectures, grading papers, and dealing with students in the learning process. I had been an editor for several newspapers, so I was used to editing news articles on the fly, but this was a more in-depth interaction with a much different goal.
What struggles did you face during your time in the program? Do you have any advice for overcoming them?
My first struggle was simply preparing for the GRE. I took an early test quiz online and I didn’t do very well. It had literally been decades since I had taken a quiz of any sort, and I was out of practice. I didn’t like the awkwardness of it. So I had to step back for a moment and hold a brief conversation with myself. ‘Ed,’ I said, ‘you said you wanted to learn new things. When does that start?’ I realized it needed to start with prep quizzes, right then.
I also needed to think a bit about my age and experience. I was going to assume a subordinate, student role, with colleagues more than 40 years younger in many cases. To get the most from the experience, I needed a fresh mindset, one focused on my current learning experience and less on my life as a reporter, editor, and PR consultant.
When you reflect on your experience, what things do you value most from it?
I value the opportunity to explore a new field, made possible primarily because of GSU-62. I also made new friends with fresh perspectives and the intellectual firepower to explore them in a meaningful way. It is fun to talk to them.