Like every new student, Arlyne Frankel was both excited and nervous about attending Panther Camp, an optional three-day program designed to help incoming students transition into FIU.
“At first, I didn’t have any reservations,” Frankel says.
But as the day to attend Panther Camp drew closer, she recalls worrying about two key things: “Are they going to accept me? Am I going to get the lower bunk bed?”
Frankel is 81 years old. She is a transfer student in the liberal studies program part-time at Biscayne Bay Campus.
The Connecticut native started her college education at Boston University in 1954 at the same time as legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“[He] was attending the Seminary School when I was attending Boston University,” she recalls, “I didn’t know of him then because it was before he became famous, but years later, I recalled in my memory seeing his name on the bulletin.”
After two years of studying at BU, she experienced some bumps in the road and decided to put her education aside. At that time, Frankel didn’t have the guidance of a good school advisor and wasn’t aware of the options available to her. She left school in Boston and moved to New York City and promised herself she would complete her college degree one day.
During her 62-year hiatus from school, Frankel held a variety of jobs and gained experience in marketing, advertising and public relations. She worked for notable organizations, including PBS, and even owned The Churchill Hotel in Miami Beach for 15 years with her now ex-husband. She raised two sons as a single mom and always made time to volunteer in her community.
“Giving back is very important to me,” Frankel says.
She started volunteering for the Red Cross at the age of 16 and has continued volunteering throughout her lifetime. Frankel currently serves as a mentor for Take Stock in Children, which helps students who don’t have financial resources for college. She was a Guardian Ad Litem as well as volunteered as a docent for the World Symphony in Miami Beach.
When Frankel retired, she decided it was the right time to fulfill the last of her three lifelong dreams. She went to Israel for her 70th birthday and volunteered in the Israeli Army; celebrated her bat mitzvah when she was 80; and, true to her word, enrolled at FIU to complete her studies and earn her college degree.
“It’s my time now!” she explains. “I said I was going to do it, and I’m doing it.”
Not only is her family very proud of her, but she’s also sharing the experience with her oldest grandson, a freshman at the University of Michigan.
Things have certainly changed since Frankel first attended college.
“When I went to college (at Boston University), pencils, pens and a Royal typewriter were my equipment. That’s it,” she reminisces.
Frankel’s biggest challenge today is adapting to technology — a challenge that she has embraced and accepted as a part of a learning curve.
Unlike when she was a teen, Frankel is taking advantage of all the resources available to her as a student this time around. She recently visited the Disability Resource Center and found out she’s had a learning disability all her life that makes it difficult to retain information she reads.
“I used to think I wasn’t smart,” Frankel admits.
Armed with this new knowledge, the tools to succeed and a desire to learn, Frankel is eager to get out of her comfort zone. She admits that there are so many opportunities to get involved at FIU that she hasn’t wrapped her mind around it all yet.
“You have to learn new skills and new insights about yourself instead of re-living the same patterns, over and over. That’s why I went to (Panther) Camp, to do new things.”
Organized by Orientation and Parent Programs, Panther Camp assists new students in building relationships with other students, fosters school spirit and helps students learn about the university’s traditions and unique culture. Panther Camp was the perfect first step for Frankel to transition into her new college experience.
“As soon as I got there, the leadership was there greeting me with their big hello…. They were so very welcoming that I felt absolutely taken care of and it continued (from that moment on),” she says.
Frankel did not request special treatment. She arrived at MMC for the grand send-off and took the two-hour bus ride to the camp site at Lake Placid along with all the other campers. Once she arrived, Panther Camp’s advisors and facilitators were very accommodating and ensured she felt comfortable.
“I think that’s part of the magic of Panther Camp,” says Marc Mobley, associate director of Orientation and Parent Programs. “No matter who you are or what makes you different, the students at Panther Camp always create a family and welcome everyone to the table.”
Despite the age difference, Frankel participated as much as she could in the program’s events. One of Frankel’s favorite Panther Camp moments was during a relay race; while she didn’t physically play the games, she was part of the team on the sideline.
“I held the flag, and I cheered them!” she says.
“The entire room was cheering her on and joining in the fun,” says Alina Quintana, assistant director of Orientation and Parent Programs. “(Arlyne) had such a positive energy throughout the entire weekend.”
Panther Camp exceeded Frankel’s expectations. She attributes its success to the incredible leadership of the program.
“I did not expect any of it… It was a wonderful adventure for me,” she says.
Her advice to incoming and transfer students of any age considering Panther Camp is: “Do it!”
So what’s next for Frankel?
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up…that’s the truth,” chuckles Frankel.
In the meantime, she has no plans of slowing down.
“I want to study abroad…get my B.A. by the time I’m 90. Then, I may go to grad school. We’ll see,” she says.
Frankel also wants to stay involved with Panther Camp and do what she does best — give back.
The lovely and courageous 81-year-old student admits she’s touched to hear people are inspired by her. But she asks, “alright you’re inspired (by me) so what are you going to do in your life?”