Financial Pressures, Demanding Work Schedules And Self-Doubt, Graduate
Learns It Is Never "Too Late"
14, 2001-- After flunking out of college, Andrew
Todd Rich promised himself that one day he would teach.
want to give college-bound students information theyll need
so they dont bomb out like I did," says Rich, who flunked
or dropped out of the University of Virginia more than once.
the verge, finally, of earning a bachelors degree from U.Va.,
Rich, 32, wants to teach government classes at an area school. "I
want to teach students what I didnt learn in high school,
such as writing, taking notes and developing study skills. Mostly,
I want to help them understand what the first two years of college
graduating from Herndon High School in Fairfax County in 1986, Rich
entered George Mason University, but floundered. After a year and
a half, he left with a 0.9 grade point average. He moved to Charlottesville
and enrolled in Piedmont Virginia Community College, where after
another year and a half, he earned a 3.8 GPA.
entered U.Va. in 1998 as a third-year student, but shortly after
had a falling-out with his parents. "I rebelled against them.
I started working full-time and was going to U.Va. full-time,"
Rich said. "I thought I could do it all. But I soon learned
I had to have money to eat and pay the rent, so work become more
important than school."
was placed on academic probation in spring 1990, when his GPA slipped
returned to U.Va. in fall 1990, but with his full-time work schedule,
he "bombed out," and was suspended from the University.
January 1991, he met Jill Guengerich, a PVCC student, and the pair
eloped a few months later. In 1992, the couple had the first of
three sons, and Rich found "the necessities of supporting a
family took precedence over a degree."
so many false starts, Rich doubted his ability to earn a bachelors
degree. "I resigned myself to believing a degree would never
happen. It seemed Id blown it so badly that my opportunity
for an education had passed me by, and I had probably forgotten
everything Id learned."
working one of several jobs, he became friendly with Hovey Dabney,
former rector of the U.Va. Board of Visitors, who suggested that
Rich contact Gordon Stewart, an associate dean in the College of
Arts and Sciences, for advice.
Stewart urged me to straighten out my life before attempting school
again," Rich said. "If I returned, he wanted me to put
my heart in school."
the next several years, Rich periodically contacted Stewart, who
offered unfailing support and advice. With Stewarts guidance,
Rich saw some of his strengths. "Dean Stewart helped me realize
that although I wasnt in school, I was constantly seeking
opportunities to learn. For example, I attended Miller Center lectures,
and some of my favorite dates with Jill were going to bookstores
to find old history and philosophy books."
1998 Rich enrolled in a U.Va. summer course. "Dean Stewart
gave me a very short leash and said I couldnt get anything
less than a B. Here I was married, working full-time, and Id
been given one last shot."
earned an A in the "Philosophy of Law" class. "That
A extended my line of credit a bit,"
Rich said with a smile.
the high grade created an opportunity of returning to U.Va., "I
couldnt find classes that fit my work schedule. So for another
two years, I didnt take any courses."
working several years for a Charlottesville publisher, Rich joined
a local start-up publishing firm, which folded its weekly publication
in June 2000. Seeing him at a crossroads, Richs wife and family
strongly encouraged him to return to U.Va. to complete his degree.
of Richs biggest obstacles in obtaining a degree was successfully
completing a foreign-language requirement, since he had never earned
above Ds in the past.
considerable anxiety, he cashed in a retirement plan from a previous
job and enrolled in the Universitys Summer Foreign Language
Institute. The Italian classes met all day long, five days a week
over the summer.
worked harder for those grades than anything else in my life,"
Rich said. Every day Id be sitting on the patio outside of
Clemons Library studying when the sun rose at 6 a.m. I even got
to the point where I was dreaming in Italian." He finished
with 4 Bs.
overcoming his biggest hurdle, his family urged him to pursue financial
aid to return to U.Va. full-time. "Id been telling myself
that getting a degree took too much moneythat I had to work
and support my family."
to his surprise, Todd discovered that considerable financial aid
does exist. He also found that the streamlined application process
can be completed online.
the comfort of financial aid, he entered U.Va. full-time last fall.
He has taken 12 credit hours each semester this academic year; over
the past three semesters his GPA has risen from a 1.0 to what he
hopes will be over 3.0 when he graduates.
May 20, hell earn a B.A. in government and foreign affairs,
with his wife, three sons, and both his and his wifes parents
watching from a Lawn balcony.
Stewart opened the door for me in 1995, but I wasnt ready
to walk though it until 1998. I had to decide I could do the work
and do it well," said Rich. "Looking back, I realize that
if youve got the support of family and friends, just close
your eyes and step off the cliff."
teaching a while, Rich plans to apply to law school. "Some
friends are questioning my decision to go to law school when Im
finally earning a bachelors. But I realized that even though
Ill be 36 or 37 when I graduate from law school, I would rather
turn another year older with a law degree than without one."
entering law school, though, he feels a strong need to teach. "Ever
since I first flunked out, Ive wanted to teach high school
kids the things I didnt learn until it was too late."
forthcoming graduation, though, and his plans to enter law school
prove it is never "too late."
Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857