Span Plan recognizes nontraditional undergraduate students with inaugural graduation cords symbolizing energy, balance and prestige


Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

A week before they walked across the graduation stage, seven Purdue students gathered to reflect upon the circuitous paths that led them there.

One spoke about the culture shock of being almost 30 years old and learning alongside recent high school graduates. One spoke about leaving the Army, joining a community college, and being stunned with joy to earn admission into Purdue.

In each person’s story lay the theme of persistence. Resolve. An unwavering commitment to seeing it through, even when it was hard. Especially when it was hard.

For the first time at Purdue, graduates affiliated with Span Plan Nontraditional Student Support were presented with a graduation cord to signify their nontraditional student journey.

According to Span Plan director Malissa Ayala, the cord colors of turquoise and black represent energy, serenity, and balance, as well as power, authority, and prestige.

“I have yet to know a Span Plan student who did not have the power and energy to overcome, or to advocate for themselves and others with authority; to balance multiple roles in their life and be proud of their background and what may be in many instances the path less traveled,” Ayala remarked to the students. “I hope you all take time to embrace that and think about the success that comes with that.”

Span Plan was founded in 1968 by Helen Schleman, Purdue’s Dean of Women. At the time, female students required a campus administrator’s permission to wear pants instead of skirts. Toward the end of World War II, Purdue received an influx of male student veterans who aimed to make use of the GI Bill, and yet the percentage of female attendees was dropping substantially, along with women’s graduation rates.

Schleman hoped Span Plan would provide education and career counseling for wives of married students, as well as female graduate and nontraditional students who were returning to college later in life.  

While the program has changed over time, Schleman’s belief in making education accessible to all people at all stages of life continues to drive Ayala’s work.

“Life is so full of ups and downs and in-betweens,” Ayala said. “It’s not always one step in front of the other and all the rest following in suit and in line, but actually the things that make these students so amazing are the experiences they have had, and the ways those experiences impact how they think and how they view the world. They’re part of our Span Plan village, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share their stories.”

Writer: Andrea Mattingly, Communications Director of Student Success Programs, 765-496-3754,

Last updated: Dec. 17, 2019

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