45-Year-Old U Student Returns to School to Advocate for Marginalized Communities


Julia Chuang

Jody Rowser, a history major student at the University of Utah, poses in front of the J. Willard Marriott Library in Salt Lake City on Feb. 13, 2023. (Photo by Julia Chuang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Caelan Roberts, News Editor


When Jody Rowser graduated high school, she decided to attend Utah State University. After a year, she transferred to the University of Utah, where she studied accounting for three more years, but never finished her degree.

Rowser, now 45 years old, returned to school in the fall of 2022 — this time to study history.

“I never got really excited to come back to finish my accounting degree because I was really just doing that to be practical,” Rowser said. “And I think it took me this long to figure out what I was passionate about and to figure out why I wanted to finish it.”

The primary reason she wanted to return to school, she said, is to advocate for communities who have been “pigeonholed” and discriminated against in the United States.

“I kind of have a need to be just more of an advocate for those who need a voice,” she said.

Because of this, she is focusing her studies on African American history, an area in which she feels she can learn a lot and have an opportunity to address fundamental issues Black people face in society.

“We need to change our mindset and come up with a way to solve the problems that we’ve created,” she said. “So I feel like that’s my passion is just trying to find a way to maybe create another voice that’s talking about something that needs to be talked about.”

Rowser said her passion for advocacy came from her sister, who passed away several years ago. Her sister had a Ph.D. and in their conversations, she “opened up my understanding of what was going on in the world around me,” Rowser said. 

Challenges of Returning to School

During the fall, Rowser’s first semester back at school, she said it was challenging to fit in due to the age gap between her and most other students on campus. 

“I just kind of felt like I didn’t necessarily belong,” she said. 

Ian Wixom, fifth-year math and applied science major, is the director of ASUU’s Student Immersion and Outreach Board. The board’s mission, he said, “is to advocate for non-traditional students,” in which students over 25 are included. 

Wixom said older people who have taken “alternative life paths” and started school at a later stage are a broad and vital non-traditional group to connect to the U’s resources.

He added that often, one of the biggest challenges older students face at the U is the difficulty in making “those connections when you have peers that are of significant age difference around you.” He added that though this may not seem like a big issue, it can have a negative effect on the students.

“Us humans are social creatures,” Wixom said. “We want to have bonds with other people, we want to understand one another.”

Though Rowser struggled with isolation in her first semester, she quickly got over it thanks to the support of her professors and fellow students.

“Every student that I’ve interacted with has been so gracious and kind,” she said. “I mean, everybody makes me feel so welcome.”

Still, if older students struggle with isolation, Wixom said the Student Immersion Board is always there to help connect them with campus resources and even other older students.

“We don’t want them to feel alone,” he said.

Social isolation is not the only problem Rowser has faced returning to school. Another difficulty has been balancing being a mother of six while attending school.

“I’m trying to stay somewhat involved, but at the same time, I’ve definitely been a lot less involved this year than I have been in years past just because, you know, I’m a full-time student,” she said. 

However, four of her kids are now college-aged, so she felt it was the right time to return to school.

“I have got so much time available, and I could just listen to a lot more books or read a lot more books, but I would actually prefer to just continue on my educational journey,” she said.

Despite the difficulties, Rowser said returning to school has been “worth every minute” because she enjoys the coursework, has increased her empathy for others and has “been starved for this level of dedicating to something.”

She expects to graduate next spring, and after that, she aims to fulfill her dream of advocating for marginalized communities.

“I have the ability, I have the time, I have the resources, and I guess I just need to figure out where I need to start looking to do that,” she said.

That may come in the form of teaching middle school, something she feels she would enjoy because those are formative years when kids start to form opinions about the world around them and what they believe.

“So I feel like I could be a great advocate that way,” Rowser said. 

However, her post-graduation plans are still up in the air, and right now, she is just enjoying her college experience.

“I definitely feel like I just need to do this journey for me, and then after that, we’ll figure out where it goes,” she said.


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