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Overcoming Financial Pressures, Demanding Work Schedules And Self-Doubt, Graduate Learns It Is Never "Too Late"

May 14, 2001-- After flunking out of college, Andrew Todd Rich promised himself that one day he would teach.

"I want to give college-bound students information they’ll need so they don’t bomb out like I did," says Rich, who flunked or dropped out of the University of Virginia more than once.

On the verge, finally, of earning a bachelor’s degree from U.Va., Rich, 32, wants to teach government classes at an area school. "I want to teach students what I didn’t 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 are like."

After 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.

He 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."

Rich was placed on academic probation in spring 1990, when his GPA slipped below 2.0.

He returned to U.Va. in fall 1990, but with his full-time work schedule, he "bombed out," and was suspended from the University.

In 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."

After so many false starts, Rich doubted his ability to earn a bachelor’s degree. "I resigned myself to believing a degree would never happen. It seemed I’d blown it so badly that my opportunity for an education had passed me by, and I had probably forgotten everything I’d learned."

While 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.

"Dean 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.’"

Over the next several years, Rich periodically contacted Stewart, who offered unfailing support and advice. With Stewart’s guidance, Rich saw some of his strengths. "Dean Stewart helped me realize that although I wasn’t 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."

In 1998 Rich enrolled in a U.Va. summer course. "Dean Stewart gave me a very short leash and said I couldn’t get anything less than a B. Here I was married, working full-time, and I’d been given one ‘last shot.’"

He earned an A in the "Philosophy of Law" class. "That ‘A’ extended my ‘line of credit’ a bit," Rich said with a smile.

Although the high grade created an opportunity of returning to U.Va., "I couldn’t find classes that fit my work schedule. So for another two years, I didn’t take any courses."

After 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, Rich’s wife and family strongly encouraged him to return to U.Va. to complete his degree.

One of Rich’s biggest obstacles in obtaining a degree was successfully completing a foreign-language requirement, since he had never earned above Ds in the past.

With considerable anxiety, he cashed in a retirement plan from a previous job and enrolled in the University’s Summer Foreign Language Institute. The Italian classes met all day long, five days a week over the summer.

"I worked harder for those grades than anything else in my life," Rich said. Every day I’d 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.

After overcoming his biggest hurdle, his family urged him to pursue financial aid to return to U.Va. full-time. "I’d been telling myself that getting a degree took too much money–that I had to work and support my family."

Much to his surprise, Todd discovered that considerable financial aid does exist. He also found that the streamlined application process can be completed online.

With 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.

On May 20, he’ll earn a B.A. in government and foreign affairs, with his wife, three sons, and both his and his wife’s parents watching from a Lawn balcony.

"Gordon Stewart opened the door for me in 1995, but I wasn’t 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 you’ve got the support of family and friends, just close your eyes and step off the cliff."

After teaching a while, Rich plans to apply to law school. "Some friends are questioning my decision to go to law school when I’m finally earning a bachelor’s. But I realized that even though I’ll be 36 or 37 when I graduate from law school, I would rather turn another year older with a law degree than without one."

Before entering law school, though, he feels a strong need to teach. "Ever since I first flunked out, I’ve wanted to teach high school kids the things I didn’t learn until it was too late."

Rich’s forthcoming graduation, though, and his plans to enter law school prove it is never "too late."

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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