Inspired by Span Plan, Purdue professor turns nontraditional student experience into lifelong passion and career

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Friday, November 18th, 2016

Bev Davis poses in front the engineering fountain with two nontraditional students enrolled in her class

Bev Davis had been out of school for more than 10 years when a work injury left her unable to perform her job at a manufacturing plant.

Moments after receiving a small parting settlement from her employer, Davis drove straight to Purdue University. She needed a new professional direction, and she was convinced that education was her best way forward. When Davis stepped into the Purdue Registrar’s office, however, the task suddenly seemed much more daunting.

“They didn’t know what to do with me,” Davis says. “I’d been out of school for so long, and I didn’t have the prerequisites required for math.”

Somehow, Davis got in touch with Peg Sullivan, who was head of Purdue’s Span Plan program at the time. As a bastion of resources and support for nontraditional students at Purdue, Span Plan provided Davis with academic direction and fueled her motivation to earn an undergraduate degree.

“Span Plan guided me in every way, and Peg Sullivan in particular took me under her wing,” Davis says. “She told me, ‘Bev, you can do this—you’d be surprised at what you’re capable of.’ Peg also helped me discover the organizational leadership program, which was a perfect fit for me.”

Davis went on to earn both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Purdue. Now, as an associate professor at the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, she reflects on her experience with Span Plan and recounts it as one of the most pivotal events in her life.

The people she met and the organizations she joined—including Alpha Sigma Lambda, an honor society for nontraditional students (of which she was a charter member and also served as the group’s first president)—helped her discover a passion for mentoring other nontraditional students.

Perhaps that’s why she finds so much joy in teaching at Polytechnic’s statewide location in Lafayette, Ind., which is attended by mostly nontraditional students. Reflecting Davis’ own experience, many of these students haven’t been in a classroom for a decade or more.

“I understand their fear when they first walk into my classroom, because I was completely lost and terrified when I walked onto campus as an adult student,” Davis says. “Today, I try to carry on the Span Plan mindset of motivating people, being supportive of them and understanding their journey.”

It’s a role that Davis says she was made for—to be a mentor and a guide, and to help others discover their own passions, regardless of their age or previous experiences.

“Education changed my life completely, and this is something that I carry to the classroom with me because I want students’ lives to change for the better, like mine did,” she says. “And the best part for me is that I get to be the faculty member who walks with them when they go to receive their degrees. I get to encourage them to savor the moment, to recognize and be proud of how far they’ve come.”

Today, Davis is looking for ways to make resources similar to what Span Plan offers available to her off-campus students. She’s also met with Span Plan staff to discuss ways she can partner with the organization in the future.

For more information on Span Plan—housed in Student Success—or to learn how to become a donor, visit www.purdue.edu/spanplan.

Written by Andrea Thomas, Communications Director for Student Success, 765-496-3754, thomas78@purdue.edu


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