Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Geoff Towne, 32, jokingly refers to himself as the “world’s most educated line cook.” He worked in restaurant kitchens through the six years of his initial undergraduate experience, but after he was academically disqualified and kicked out of the university in the spring of 2000, the job that was only supposed to get him through college became his career. Though he says he knew the outcome was inevitable, the news of his disqualification hit Towne hard.
“I definitely thought I’d hit bottom,” he says.
On the day he received his transcripts, a UA employee in the Administration building tried to comfort Towne by reminding him that even Michael Jordan was cut from his junior high school basketball team. That day, on the steps of the Administration building, Towne says he knew he’d be back. He had considered returning to the university from that moment, but a year of cooking full-time grew into two, and Towne spent the next eight years in restaurants.
Soon, returning to academics seemed the furthest thing from his mind. In the mean time Towne defaulted on his student loans, which damaged his credit and would make life difficult for him later.
By December 2007 Towne was fed up with the kitchen. He had been talking about going back to school for a year, but recalls with clarity the moment he decided to act on his promise. At the UA-ASU football game on his day off, with a friend he had not seen for a few years, Towne says his boss would not stop calling him about problems in the kitchen.
“We’re running out of produce here. We need to get some more fruit. We’re low on fish,” Towne remembers his boss’ words. “I don’t need this,” he remembers thinking.
The next day he scoured the wanted pages for a new job and noticed geography graduates were in demand. But returning to UA is not a simple process. He had to enroll in Pima Community College first. After satisfying the unit requirements at Pima he returned to UA in Fall 2008 on academic probation, joining the ranks of the 10.2% of the undergraduate student body ages 25 and over.
“It’s a world of difference now,” says Towne, “I’m back to finish what I started 15 year ago.” So far the new-found motivation seems to be paying off. Towne’s GPA since he returned is higher that any of the semesters of his first six years, and he believes in a few weeks he may earn a 4.0 semester GPA.
But returning was not an easy decision to make.
“It took six years for me to flunk out of college and eight years to come back,” Towne notes. He says that with a stubborn personality like his it was difficult to learn from other people’s mistakes. He learned by making his own. But there are two things he wished he would have known during his first six years. First, if you feel yourself slipping academically and you are not ready to take school seriously, take a leave of absence while you are still in good standing. This makes it easier to return. Second, pay your student loans, or face a ruined credit rating, which makes it difficult to get any kind of financial aid in the future.
With a chuckle, Towne recalls the ethos of his first six undergraduate years: “I do what I want. I live for today.” Then adds, “That’s fine, but if you plan on living tomorrow you might want to not lay traps for yourself.”