Peirce grads juggle family and attending college

FOR THE PAST three years, Emma Morando-Young and Anthony Young's Philadelphia home has been doubling as a college dorm.

The dining room table is strewn with books - the result of too many 3 a.m. homework sessions - rather than forks and knives.

On Monday, some 13 years into their marriage, after raising kids and pursuing careers, the Youngs will walk down another aisle - to get college diplomas at the same time. The couple will graduate from Peirce College, a Center City school focused on adult learners. Emma, 42, will receive her bachelor's degree in integrated leadership while her husband, 49, will receive his associate's degree in criminal justice.

And the Youngs aren't stopping there. Next year, Young and his 25-year-old stepdaughter both expect to receive their bachelor's degrees.

The story of the married adult learner is one of shifting schedules, canceling babysitters, lunchtime homework, and family study sessions.

It's a life that Mariya Georgieva, 34, and Stefan Georgiev, 42, know well. The couple will also be graduating Monday, with their 9-month-old son, George, sitting on their laps and with her sister also in the audience.

After working in Peirce's information technology department, Stefan will graduate with a master of science in organizational leadership & management. Mariya will receive her bachelor of science in integrated leadership - the degree she never got to finish after moving from Bulgaria during an exchange program in college.

The couple credits Peirce Fit, a program that allows students to alternate between online and in-person classes at their convenience, with providing them the flexibility to stay in school. When their babysitter canceled just before a class, for example, Mariya was able to stay home with her child and take the session online, rather than fall behind.

The couple said studying leadership in college made them better parents at home.

With a newborn to care for, Mariya said there were times she thought she should just take a break from school. But her partner encouraged her to keep going. "I think that is true leadership, to not let someone or your spouse give up," she said.

Cathy Littlefield, an associate professor of Organizational Leadership and Management at Peirce who has taught both Stefan and Mariya, recalled a time where she had a videoconference with Mariya while Stefan was taking care of the baby in the background. Littlefield said their marriage created a support system that helped in the classroom.

"They were able to empathize with each other so they understood what it meant to have to write a paper and have a deadline," Littlefield said.

For the Youngs, going to school as a family also meant more empathy for their 15-year-old son, Kyron. "We understand [his problems] completely," Emma said. "We wish we didn't have to do our homework either."

And oh, how much homework there is.

Stefan was doing homework the night before his wedding. Emma and Anthony's relatives complain that when they come to visit they bring their laptops to do work. For these hardworking couples, it's just become a part of what they do.

"We say we don't have time, but think about it, we make time for everything else we want to do," Emma said.

Anthony had put off his education after more than 20 years in the military, put off by the idea of being the "old guy" in the classroom.

"It kind of delayed me, but then I figured I better do it now before I get any older," he said, laughing.

The Youngs and Georgievs offered words of encouragement for other potential adult learners to take the leap back into school. Despite the lack of sleep and busy hours, both say it has improved their relationships with each other and made them into better examples for their kids.

"We always had fun, we always laughed together," Emma said, "but now we have this intellectual connection."