By Charity Webster, contributing writer
(Photo Credit Melissa Pariziale) Melissa and her daughter Mia
Becoming an alumni is what every student wants, but often life throws curve balls at the student which changes the course of life and causes them not to complete the task. UMF has started an amazing opportunity for those students that have struggled to complete their degrees for one reason or another. A program called “Almost Alumni” helps these individuals finally finish their degrees.
Ashley Montgomery is the Assistant to the Dean, Learning and Assessment at UMF, and she is the driving force of Almost Alumni. She also chairs the academic success team which monitors and works with students who are struggling currently at UMF. These “Almost Alumni” individuals are having their transcripts reviewed. If it is possible to complete the degree they will support these individuals through the process.
In the beginning, when Montgomery was attending a meeting with others involved in upper-level education, she really had not put much thought into UMF having a large number of Almost Alumni or stop students (as they are called elsewhere). “Our numbers for adults (24+years old) is very minimal and the majority of the UMF population tends to be of a traditional age,” said Montgomery. Typically, more than half of a class finishes the degree in a normal college timeline. What happens to the rest of them? UMF has stepped up to find them and help support them through what is missing. They are committed to the success of the non-traditional student. They are even willing to pay fines and find resources to pay for books and other college expenses. “They will even research more local colleges for the student to make the transition and completion easier.” said Melissa Parziale, Graduate from Almost Alumni.
“Almost Alumni have delivered 20+ diplomas to students who never had the opportunity to finish their college degree over the last year, each time I was almost in tears from so much joy.” Montgomery said.
Montgomery has sifted through hundreds of past students and selected students that she is approaching to develop a plan to finish. When asked if there was financial support for these students, the answer was there are funds that can help Almost Alumni complete their projected course of study.
Melissa Parziale is one of those students who was approached by Montgomery and only needed two classes to graduate once they reviewed her transcripts and changed her major to General Education. “This phone call and opportunity came at the perfect moment in my life. During COVID, I had lost my job and I was training for Human Resource Management and Leadership, I was so shocked I was receiving an email saying I was close to finishing my Degree” said Parziale. Twenty-eight years after starting her degree at UMF, she finally finished her degree in July of 2021. She proudly hangs it on her wall in her office at a Dental Lab where she is the Director of Human Resources.
For some individuals, graduation is even easier than anticipated. “For some it might be just switching majors and immediately getting a diploma, and for others it might be just one class to completion” Montgomery said. There are a lot of students in the system who have a degree right now and don’t even know it, some just because they never applied for their diploma. Also, they may have been enrolled in the program a while back and the requirements have changed. “These are the easy diplomas,” said Montgomery.
“If I could tell everyone to go back and finish I would, it was what I always wanted to do and Ashley supported me through it every step of the way. Reach out to her and finish,” said Parziale. “I wanted my daughter to know that she can do anything and to never give up on your dreams.”
Contact Information: Almost Alumni Ashley Montgomery Assistant to the Dean, Learning and Assessment at UMF firstname.lastname@example.org