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The benefits of going back — Stephen Mills’ nontraditional transfer experience

“I started out at IU in the traditional path right out of high school. I was a direct admission to IU into mathematics. It came easily to me, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with it.” Stephen Mills, now a senior in Purdue’s Horticulture & Landscape Architecture major with a concentration in Landscape Design, shared. 

Studying a field that didn’t give him purpose or passion left Mills depressed and looking for more. He left IU and started working. Eventually, he found a position in a landscaping business in Bloomington. Mills had accidentally stumbled upon work he loved, stayed there for a decade, and even became a manager of the landscape maintenance team. 

But, as time went by, Mills grew curious about the way plants grew and wanted to be a part of the design installation of landscape—a piece of horticulture that would make use of his art skills. To get there, however, Mills knew he had to tackle the daunting task of starting school again.

“I didn't want to just jump straight back into full-time coursework after the difficulty I had at IU, so I decided to start at the Ivy Tech in Bloomington. I took one or two classes there after work every semester for three semesters.” Mills worked with advisors in Purdue Horticulture and Landscape Architecture to maximize the transferable credits he could take there before moving to West Lafayette to finish his degree. Ivy Tech offered a bridge to Mills to try school again without financial strain or leaving his job and home immediately.

A lot of people in Mills’ position might have felt like going back to get a four-year degree 15 years after highschool would have meant upending their life. Mills, however, recognizes that it was just the right time for him to be at Purdue. “I’m older and wiser. I have a clear idea of what I want to do, and that has made focusing on school so much easier. Plus, being closer to my professors’ age now, it's a lot easier to talk to them. I've had great conversations with my professors about everything from coursework to research options.”

Mills works in a lab now with his professor, Chris Oakley in Botany & Plant Pathology, after taking and enjoying a plant ecology class. He’s earned the Martin Agricultural Research Scholarship to help fund his research there on how plants change their growth and behavior in response to cold temperatures. This, and other scholarships that are available to nontraditional and transfer students, have given Mills the security to complete his education. Oakley, noticing his talent in the plant sciences, has encouraged him to pursue his PhD after. No matter where he goes next, Mills knows that his experience in ecology will follow him throughout the rest of his life—whether he goes to grad school or goes on to design projects for the landscape industry.

Transfer to purdue agriculture

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