Student Spotlight: Helen “Pat” Knight
Helen “Pat” Knight
Major: A.A., A.S., A.G.S
When Helen “Pat” Knight first went to college, she only had time to take courses that led directly to a degree.
“I was carrying a full load, so I could not take those other courses on subjects that fascinated me,” she said.
After two years at North Central College, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. She earned her officer’s commission after graduating from Colorado State University in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Following her master’s degree in computer science at the University of Illinois, she was sent to teach at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Knight spent her entire career pursuing her passion of aviation. Along the way, she earned pilot certificates in airplanes, gliders and helicopters; additional master’s degrees in Business and Aviation Management; and another bachelor’s degree in Aviation. After retiring from the Air Force and moving back to Lemont, she worked for aviation companies as a pilot, training manager and director of operations.
She also wanted to continue her education and explore other subjects that interested her.
“I found that College of DuPage had many of these subjects,” she said. “It was very easy to apply, transfer credits and enroll in a class. Everything fit my still-busy lifestyle, especially with online courses. I did not search much further once I started taking courses. I kept coming back because it worked.”
In the process, Knight earned an Associate in Science, Associate in Arts, Associate in General Studies and Associate in Arts in Teaching Secondary Mathematics. In 2015, she was named one of College of DuPage’s Outstanding Graduate finalists.
Knight moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to work as a Standardization Flight Instructor for the Federal Aviation Administration and then as a manager. She now works in the Airman Training and Certification Branch, which writes FAA policy for areas such as airman practical tests, special aircraft authorizations, flight with night vision goggles and inspector risk management.
“This is the closest I have come in my 10 years with the FAA to really making a difference,” she said. “I love my job.”
Even though she is approaching 70, Knight continues to take classes, having started a master’s degree program with Chadron State College, part of the University of Nebraska system. But her connection to COD remains; in March 2016, her story about the early Chicago airmail routes was published in the ESSAI, the annual publication containing work from COD students.
“I still have not found a school that offers what COD offers, especially online,” she said. “I have spent quite a bit of time searching for courses offered in the local area and for online courses I could take as a Texas resident.
“I will also take more courses from COD because there are still some that I want to take. I have not studied sociology at all, and there are some focused English literature classes and Spanish or French language classes that interest me.”
While she has considered pursuing a doctorate, she’s not sure if it is worth investing the time and money at this point in her life. But Knight knows that she doesn’t want to stop learning, and she plans to continue taking classes at College of DuPage as long as she can.
She also believes that older learners shouldn’t be afraid to start or continue their educations, especially at COD.
“Perhaps the student had a bad experience in the past, or high school performance was not that great, or the older student believes there is not place in school for an older student, that the student would ‘stick out.’ Ah, nonsense! Give it a try. Take a course in your interest area. Take a course that builds on what you already know. Ease back into school and learning. College of DuPage is the place to try a course with all the resources available and all the interested and dedicated instructors. Don’t be afraid, give it a go!
“I identify most closely with older adult learners. I think this is an untapped source of potential students for COD. I was actually really glad to be considered as an outstanding graduate, because that honor reflects on the importance of learning for the older adult.”
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