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Ruth Carlson '23

Rediscovering a love for the classroom

In her 40s, Ruth Carlson '23 is pursuing a dream she has had since she was a child but no longer imagined was possible – earning a bachelor's degree.

"I have a lot of big feelings surrounding being in school, and I am so incredibly grateful to be on this journey right now," Carlson says. "I think there is something special and powerful about being in school as an adult with a lifetime of experience behind you."

And the life experience Carlson brings to the classroom is abundant. She lived abroad in Finland for over a decade, working a variety of jobs including as a floral arranger for the country's premier flower shop. While abroad, she started an online sewing business centered on "petite fashion couture" that allowed her to travel the world selling doll clothing. And when she returned home to Washington state, she had two children with her husband.

Now, Carlson is working toward an elementary education degree at Whitworth. "My grandmother and mother were teachers, and I had always imagined myself becoming a teacher until my life took me other places," she says.

She is also pursuing an English Language Learner Endorsement. "Sharing cultures is important. Being able to share and participate in a new culture is even more important to the immigrant. Language is a big key to that," she says. "My integration into Finland and Finnish life was dependent upon language and the people around me who let me share my culture in exchange for some of theirs."

Carlson is finding great joy in being a student again. "I am not the student who is dying to go home early," she says. "I want every minute of class time. Let me soak it up."

As a student in the School of Continuing Studies, Carlson is taking a range of liberal arts classes. Art and multicultural studies courses have been some of her favorites. "Every course that challenges the status quo… come at me!" she says. "I want to be challenged. I want my way of thinking to be flipped on its lid."

No course did that more for her than Gender & the Bible with Professor Karin Heller. "I struggle explaining how significant her class was for me. Transformative is the best word I can come up with," Carlson says. "The Bible was weaponized against me as a young woman. Professor Heller's class validated all the questions I had 25, 30 years ago."

Carlson chose Whitworth for her education in part because of how her program helps students stay on track for degree completion. "Whitworth just met all my needs," she says. "I needed guidance and someone to think about how to fit all my requirements in and hold my hand. I had enough to think about at home with kids and family obligations."

Her family has been very supportive. "It's good for my children to see me working hard at school; they understand that my time is valuable in more ways than just being their mother," she says. "They see me working hard to accomplish something that matters to me."

Carlson says she could go to school forever and would like to earn a master's degree in the future. "Espousing and embracing the concept of lifelong learning and critical thinking is a constant theme at Whitworth and is an aspect I appreciate deeply in my program," she says. "Hopefully, a degree in education will do its job in keeping me in the classroom both as a teacher and as a learner."


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