I never thought my journey would lead me to Spelman College, especially as a nontraditional student. I have been a beauty entrepreneur since I graduated from high school in 1992. I held positions at Clinique, Dr. Miracles Hair Care and Ulta 3 Cosmetics. In 1996, I opened Nekesa’s Natural Radiance Beauty Co., a natural hair salon. I married and created a product line once our daughter Shina was born. After the birth of our son Chase, I decided to take some classes in business just to strengthen my skills. Those classes resulted in me obtaining my associate’s degree in marketing.

After being in business for so many years, I decided to make the sacrifice and return to college to obtain my bachelor’s degree for self-gratification. I figured that I had done so much in my career by working on movie and video sets and writing for beauty publications, while running my natural hair salon. I discovered that Spelman had a program for non-traditional students called the Pauline E. Drake Scholars Program that had a portfolio course that would take the nontraditional student life experiences and apply them as college credits. With an associate’s degree and the portfolio program, I was sure to spend only a year-and-a-half at Spelman.

Taking the Plunge

Accepted to Spelman in 2008, I was up for the challenge while still being married, with two active children and running my business at a slower pace. It turned out not only were my previous college credits not accepted at Spelman, but the portfolio program was no longer available. I would be starting college with 15 college credits while needing 120 to graduate. With a little disappointment and a lot of determination, I pressed forward taking one to three classes a semester.

Taking required classes like African Diaspora and the world and intro to women’s studies helped me to go through the journey without worrying about the time it would take to graduate. The experience gave me inner strength to accomplish my journey as a nontraditional student. Intro to women’s studies gave me a global perspective on women in society past and present. I realized that there is still work needed to enhance the lives of women nationally and globally although women are legally considered equal.

Swimming Upstream

I have had major challenges with my schedule. Some semesters I take all morning classes, while my kids are in school. Some semesters I take the once-a-week evening classes. Another obstacle I’ve experienced is the disconnection with some of the traditional students. The age factor plays a part with traditional students not being able to relate to a nontraditional student.

One student thought that I may have been a prior student at Spelman who had to drop out because I got pregnant. She also said that she thought my reason for coming  back  was  because  I had a deadend  job and  needed to complete  my  degree at Spelman to succeed . There were times when I became  frustrated if I was  assigned to do a group project and my classmates would have no consideration for a family emergency with my children, or maybe  not  even  expect  me  to  fully  be  involved  because  I was  a  nontraditional  student.

Some of my greatest experiences here at Spelman College have been me taking one or two traditional students under my wing and mentoring them. Most of these young ladies have been brilliant and independent thinkers; however, with the added input of real life experiences, and advisement from an older sister student the impact truly prepares future leaders.

My major is comparative women’s studies. My degree is a foundation for my pursuit of a master’s   degree in counseling. I also plan to expand my  company  into a center for women  that  provides  programs   centered  around  counseling and  beauty education and entrepreneurship.  My ultimate goal  is  to   provide  these  programs  globally though  film media to help  fill the need for women and  children  in  underserved  areas.  – Nekesa J. Smith, C’2013, is comparative women’s studies major.

We want to hear from you! Be sure to join us here for Inside Spelman’s Live Discussion on Wednesday, October. 26, from noon to 1 p.m. to share your thoughts on the non-traditional undergraduate experience.