Monday, February 20, 2023

The Viking American Construction Worker, GPA 3.92

 John C Gibson

Instructor Emma Peterson

Introduction To Sociology 

University Of Massachusetts, Lowell

16 February 2023

The Viking American Construction Worker, GPA 3.925


This report discusses an atypical case from the common consensus of adult college students' challenging prospects, such as “Work/life obstacles” by Nancy J. Sweeney of Northeastern University, which categorizes “adult college students” as students aged 25 or older in undergraduate programs (Sweeney). The subject of this report is a male undergraduate student who withdrew from the university system in the first year twelve years ago. While calling himself a construction worker, the subject built a career working for two data center construction companies during his absence. As a sociological self-experimentation, the subject student was readmitted to the Kennedy College Of Science and resumed his bachelor’s degree program two years ago in 2021. Currently, the subject is a third-year student with over half the total credits completed for the degree requirement cumulative GPA of 3.925. 


It is much hard work/studying to get into the skin and stay in the skin of the working adult college students in the class. There is also a bit of distancing oneself from the formal self. As expected, most professors are much older than the students and conduct themselves excellently. The rare working adults, a mother or a father in the class, including the professor, are part of the “old people group” but are also in the “excellent group” led by the professor. Social grouping is essential in modern societies (Schaefer 79). Scoring high in exams in this group is an obligation, and avoiding the crowd, staying away from flu viruses, to preserve health for studying, is mandatory. Sometimes I forget that I am in an experiment set up by myself as a human lab hamster when the organic chemistry professor’s haunting somber expression shows the complexities of medicine synthesis and production. I have had nightmares a few times, with atomic particles crawling out of a fiery maze of molecules gnarling toward me. My calculations have wronged them, misplaced them, and I am responsible for their condemnation.

The more mature students pick up the grim faces readily and prepare for the exams accordingly because the signals socialize the “old people group.” The corporate-facing apprenticeship trained me to examine the professor’s words and expressions closely as if he were on trial in a court of law. That drive, power, may be part of famous sociologist Max Weber’s formulation for social stratification (Schaefer 133). The slightest grimace of the professor tells me whether a classmate solves an organic chemistry problem most efficiently. The speed in answering exam questions makes all the difference between scoring 60s and 90s because every student runs out of the last second of one-hour time in the organic chemistry exams. The non-verbal vocabulary that conveys information and its sociological force is powerful enough to make me study hard. Outside the “excellent group,” controlling the chemical particles and balancing electronic charges appears to be a geek's work and math equations tools geeks use to survive in the unpopular group. The class average for organic chemistry is 58 and 61 for this spring semester’s mid-term exams. 

Still, schools are more than vocational training places. As agents of socialization, professor Dalton Conley’s theory encourages schools to give “leeway” to youngsters to learn and make mistakes (Conley 129). According to labeling theories, some classes may instinctively pick out older students and label them “unfamiliar” and “different” (Schaefer 110). However the process goes, it builds an imaginary wall to protect first-time college students and give them room to practice social skills, for example, segregating group discussions by seating proximity, which first-time college students congregate during recess. A second kind of class treats every student as a trainee cadet indiscriminatingly. Most courses in the university system fall into the first category, some with paid peer tutors: undergraduate students who have completed the corresponding 2-semester course earn a minimum hourly wage given tutoring positions. The first day I was physically in a class was late in 2021 after the COVID-19 lockup between 2020 and 2021. As expected, it was a strange experiment and experience to be similar in age to general chemistry professor Dr. Farris on the first day of class in the Fall of 2021. She froze for half a second in shock when I entered the classroom and approached the front-row seats. I must be the oldest student she had ever seen in her classroom, and it took some mental processing to accept that I was not a school administrator. Then she smirked in solidarity, similar to the expression pictured here, acknowledging adults' difficulties when working with much younger people; a few are half our age. I entered the classroom just 10 seconds before the class started to avoid recess time and viruses when first-time students crowded. I tried to keep walking while checking my phone’s clock because I did not want others to bump into me, trip on the chairs with octopus legs, and draw attention to myself. I try to be as invisible as possible to other students that sometimes my tunnel vision only has the professor as the only object I can see. I miss out on the computerized attendance code on the periphery of the whiteboard corner of my tunnel vision a few times. 

However, there is a third kind of class where they stress finding the highest achieving, highest scoring student as if the entire university's reputation hangs on their class’s exam performance. One such class is Genetics, led by pre-med organization advisor Dr. Myers, where she announces the mid-term average score and the number of students that score perfect 100s after every exam. I don’t know any other professor that makes such announcements. For the 2022 Spring semester, I obtained two perfect 100s for both mid-terms. Again, every second of exam time mattered. The class’s average scores were in the 70s for the mid-terms. On the final exam day, as my usual routine, I entered the room 10 seconds before the start time. Dr. Myer greeted, with a strained voice, “Phew, there you are. I was wondering where you were.” 

That was the only time a professor was ever concerned about my whereabouts in my life. But that was far from the only novel experience I had. 

I learned during this experimentation that most “working adult” college students, including myself, may have an upper hand advantage of social stratification even though they may not realize it initially. According to Max Weber, a social stratum is not confined to a single characteristic, such as wealth or class (Schaefer 132). Instead, statuses and power are also at play (Schaefer 133). Employment is a status. A working nurse is in a higher position than a student with uncertain job prospects, even if the two are in the same classroom in a “big state university.” When I was a freshman in college twelve years ago, a B-grade student, I had always wondered what secret vocabulary the one working mother who attended web design class in the evenings had with the professor in the “old people group.” They conversed about the class material in a manner too detailed and yet too terse to understand by most other students. With muffled voices, working adults tried to protect their status as working professionals. Working professionals in the class lead role had experience solving problems in production environments that first-time students did not, their notions of web security holes overrunning with jargon in curtailing program bugs. Textbooks rarely study bugs, and sociologists say that lectures focusing on formality and academic rigor cannot capture the full extent of cultural capital (Schaefer 13).

One mystery remains. According to US government publications, the 6-year bachelor’s degree graduation rate is around 70 percent for large university systems, and the consensus of the age of an adult learner is 25 or older by private authors (Department Of Education, Sweeney). Where are the other 30 percent of students who should return to the classroom after they turn 25 or older, maybe 30-plus, assuming they first started around age 19?

Works Cited

Conley, Dalton. You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist. 7th ed., W. W. Norton and Company, 2021.

Department Of Education. “Fast Facts: Undergraduate Graduation Rates.” National Center for Education Statistics, 31 May 2022, Accessed 21 Feb. 2023.

DeWeldon, Daniel. "Smirk." Http://Commons.Wikimedia.Org/Wiki/File:Retouch_Smirk_glasses_vip_1.Jpg, 17 Feb. 2011, Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.

Schaefer, Richard. Sociology Matters. 7th ed., McGraw Hill, 2018.

Sweeney, Nancy J. “Returning To College: An Exploration Of The Perceptions And  Experiences Of Adults As Undergraduates.”, 21 May 2018, Accessed 17 Feb 2023.

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