Evening & Weekend Studies

Winter 2007 Stories

Learning from Life

Work, Life Worth Credit through Prior Learning from Experience

By Annette Santomassimo

Can writing a paper change a student's life? For students in Evergreen's Prior Learning from Experience (PLE) program, writing a paper does just that. PLE is offered as a way for returning students to document the education and experience they've gained in their lives and careers - and receive credits towards their degree. The documentation process, however, often becomes more than just a way to earn credits-it can have a profound effect on how students view themselves, their lives and other people.

Jacquelyn Ferrado
Jacquelyne Ferrado

Jacquelyne Ferrado, customer service manager at the Washington State College Savings Program recently completed her PLE document. She initially enrolled in the PLE foundation course, Writing From Life, to "just get credit fast," Ferrado says. "The process of writing, however, gave me the unexpected chance to make peace with some things about my past, and to recognize what I had learned."

Another aspect of the PLE writing process in the Writing from Life course is the evolution of unlikely yet meaningful friendships that spring from in-class critique sessions. "I saw people hugging after class that I would never picture doing so, but who found they had something in common," Ferrado says. After finishing her PLE document, Ferrado found th at reading it had a profound effect. "I'm more peaceful about who I am today because I read what I wrote," she explains.

"I found myself becoming a better listener as everyone has a story." - Jocelyn Hofe

Current PLE student Jocelyn Hofe expressed similar sentiments. "The program is a lot of work. Writing about yourself is one of the hardest things to do. This is because it's not about what you did, but how you did it, and what you learned from it," says Hofe, emergency operations chief for the Washington Department of Corrections where she has worked since 1983. Hofe also found that in-class sharing of classmates' work had an unexpected effect - she began to "see other people differently. I found myself becoming a better listener as everyone has a story."

According to faculty member Kate Crowe, who has been teaching PLE at Evergreen for 18 years, the diversity of life stories is one of the best things about the program. "I've worked with surf shop owners, opera singers and everything in between," she says. Crowe teaches the four-credit foundation course, Writing From Life, every fall, winter and spring quarters, after which students may enroll in her PLE Document Writing course for four, six or eight credits per quarter until accumulating a maximum of 16 PLE credits. This course offers students in-class critiques and support as they work on their document which, when completed, are submitted for faculty review and possibly additional credits. Getting these credits is what draws people into the program, but they leave it with a lot more. "I am truly grateful for the experience," Ferrado says.

Annette Santomassimo is a junior who, after a long break, recently transferred from the University of Colorado in Boulder. She's in love with the academic world at Evergreen, where she can pursue history, art, activism and writing all at once.