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The long haul of higher ed

by Jordan Green

As often as not on weekday afternoons, Libby Enloe can be found at Tate Street Coffee, a bustling scene that is practically an extension of UNCG. Today the 36-year-old graduate student is seated at one of the single tables, her back to the wall, peering quizzically at a laptop-computer screen as a din of simultaneous conversations drives an escalating volume war around her.

Home is in Winston-Salem. If she’s not in class and she has time to kill in Greensboro, Tate Street Coffee is as good a place to study as any.

Enloe has developed a passion for history since she first enrolled in UNCG as an undergraduate student in 1999. And she knows by now that she doesn’t want to bother with teaching in the public schools, where instruction too often amounts to drilling facts into students’ short-term memories so they can perform well on an end-of-grade test. When she decides to parlay her higher education into gainful employment, it will likely be at a community college, although there’s a slim chance she’ll get the opportunity to teach at the university level.

“At the college level, you can get more involved with the subject,” she says. “You can learn about concepts, methods and techniques for studying different parts of history. You can get [the students] involved in thinking about where their ancestors came from, and how they got engaged and involved in creating a nation.”

Enloe is not what you would consider a slacker, or someone who just sticks around the university to collect degrees for the sake of it – although she claims to know some of those people.

In 1991 she earned an associates degree that didn’t do much to match her aspirations, and spent the rest of the decade in the workforce. Re-entering college – paying for it through a combination of wage-earning jobs and loans – made sense as an investment in future earning power and a more fulfilling life.

Taking on debt to pay for tuition and books has been the most daunting aspect of the higher education experience for Enloe. She has made monthly payments on her loan interest by working as a bartender for a friend in Winston-Salem and by working at UNCG’s new I-School, an online program that allows North Carolina high school students to receive college course credit

“When I graduated from Brevard College, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she says. “I thought I wanted to go into journalism, but I didn’t know how to do that. I was out in the workforce for ten years, doing everything from flipping hamburgers to selling pianos at the mall. I worked for five years at Replacements Limited.”

Enloe had moved to the Triad from her hometown of Waynesville because of the presence of area colleges, vaguely thinking she would get back into school, but without a clear plan.

“My partner of fifteen years, she’s an air traffic controller in Charlotte,” Enloe says. “She went back to college too. She started at Winston-Salem State and graduated from UNCG in 2000. She said, ‘You could do it too.’ When I worked at Replacements they had a job evaluation every six months, and I always got good evaluations. If your employer’s telling you, ‘See, I’d like to pay you more, but you don’t have a bachelor’s degree….'”

Reentering academia gave her a significant boost in self-confidence.

“Going back to school was kind of a leap of faith,” Enloe says. “I didn’t know I could do it. Taking one or two courses let me know I could handle that workload.”

Now she’s hooked.

“I’m fascinated by the history of what we call ‘the bottom up,'” Enloe says, “not necessarily the great people, but the everyday struggles and challenges of ordinary people.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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