Embracing the on-campus adventure at age 46

Embracing the on-campus adventure at age 46

Anna Flanders /

In many ways, Marvin Carr is the typical college student. He works an on-campus job, lives in the dorms, is active in a handful of student organizations and plans to study abroad next summer. But as a 46-year-old pursuing his bachelor’s degree for the first time, he is redefining what it looks like to be a transfer student.

“It's okay to change careers and take a different path,” said Carr. “It's never too late to go back to school. Sometimes I think you can learn from younger students and vice versa.”

Carr grew up in Webster City, which he still calls home today. He always thought he would go to college after high school, but a friend convinced him and a few other friends to instead enlist in the Navy. Carr worked as a culinary specialist in the Navy for six and a half years.

After returning to civilian life, Carr was active in his daughter’s elementary school. It started by volunteering to dress up as a train conductor and read books to the kids as part of their Polar Express programming. Later, he worked as a substitute teacher and a paraeducator while also coaching basketball, track and field, and cross country. Eventually, coworkers in the school suggested Carr should consider a career as a teacher. For Carr, the desire to be a positive influence in the lives of students drew him to the suggestion.

“I can relate to a lot of the kids nowadays and their circumstances,” said Carr. “In my eyes and a lot of other peoples’ eyes, they need a role model to help guide them. I want to be that person.”

Even after he began thinking about becoming a teacher, Carr had to consider what subject he would teach. From an early age, he has loved history. His dad had a bunch of history books he recalls reading, and being in the Navy gave him the chance to be immersed in many different cultures, sparking an interest in the stories of different places around the world. So he settled on social sciences teaching as a major to teach history.

Marvin Carr with family on the front steps of his house

Marvin Carr with his wife and three kids

In 2013, Carr began his journey to obtaining a degree by enrolling in community college. However, having three young kids at home made the timing less than ideal. It would be nearly 10 years before Carr went back to finish his associate’s. Just last year, he graduated from Iowa Central Community College at the same time that his youngest child graduated from high school.

The next big decision for Carr was to choose which college to attend to earn his bachelor’s degree. At his community college, Carr was involved with a TRIO program that enabled him to tour colleges throughout the state. He considered attending colleges besides UNI, but kept feeling that the professors didn’t truly want him there. That all changed during his visits to UNI, especially after meeting with Jennifer McNabb, head of the Department of History, and Chad Christopher, the social science teaching program coordinator. 


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“I was sold on Dr. McNabb,” said Carr. “She has a passion for the job she has — if you want to call it a ‘job’ for her because I think it's just something that she loves to do. That’s the type of person I want to be to get the kids to enjoy history.”

Carr also likes how close together everything is on campus.

“I just loved the atmosphere of the campus,” he said. “You can find everything easily. The motto that it’s a big university with a small university feel is really true.”

Carr is only a semester into his studies at UNI, but he’s certainly making the most of the opportunity. He’s involved in Model United Nations, the Dancer Activities and Recreation Team and Northern Iowa Student Government. He’s also stayed in close contact with the UNI Veterans Association. 

So far, the biggest challenge has been being away from his wife and home back in Webster City.

“I’ve been gone before but not for this long,” he said. “Yet, in some sense, it has actually made my relationship with my wife better. We’ve been married for 23 ½ years. Now being apart, I want to know what’s going on with her because we aren’t in the same house every day, and that’s made our relationship stronger.”

Carr tries to keep in close contact with family by calling his wife frequently and going home just about every weekend.

Although he may be far from home, Carr knows he’s not alone. One of the ways he’s been pleasantly surprised at UNI is the way other students have rallied around him.

“I’ve been blown away by their acceptance,” he said. “That was a concern of mine going in, but it’s been really fun to get to know so many new people.”