An Idea + Support + Encouragement = Big Dividends for Nontraditional Students

Talley Student Union view from elevator

Students walk on campus by the Talley Student Union. Photo by Marc Hall

Photo of BackTrackers membersThere are times in one’s life when people, needs, and circumstances collide resulting in an event that will forever change those involved.

This particular scenario occurred on September 9, 2014, when a concept became a reality through the Social Work Department’s Diversity, Recruitment and Retention (DRR) Committee. Lorrinda Janik, who is now a senior in the Social Work program, discussed with committee advisor Barbara Zelter the need for support services for nontraditional students. Professor Zelter took Janik’s proposal to the DRR Committee and obtained approval to move forward to create an organization with a nontraditional student focus. With the committee’s encouragement, the support given by the faculty and staff of the Social Work Department and from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) and their diversity coordinator, Joe Johnson, Janik plowed ahead with the idea, and the BackTrackers organization was born. Janik, along with a strong team of organizing members, including Pam Kuras, Robert Stewart, Joelle Jacobs, Veronica Kirby, Ciara Albritton, Pilar Salgado and Christina Owens, began to connect with other nontraditional students to identify ways to meet their needs. Within three months, the organization surpassed all goals for the six-month, one-year and two-year milestones. This semester, the Social Work department teamed with Dr. Tracey Ray of the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity to create an internship for Lorrinda Janik in an effort to raise university-wide awareness of this important support system.

The BackTrackers mission statement is to “identify, embrace, support and advocate on behalf of nontraditional students and give them a place to belong and a way to connect with other students and the NC State community.”  The support provided has included a textbook exchange, tutoring sessions in Spanish and other subjects and help finding community resources such as food banks and childcare, single parent support, domestic violence support, access to legal services, finding low cost, dependable car repair and most of all, social networking and emotional support.

The issues faced by nontraditional students are different from those the traditional student encounters. Over the last year, BackTrackers group members have rallied to provide emotional support for those members going through stressful life events such as child custody, separation and divorce, emergency situations involving one of their children, and learning to balance work, school and family. The group gathers often to celebrate happy times such as birthdays, birth of children, surprise engagements and end of final exams and midterms.

Over the last year, the BackTrackers organization has achieved many milestones and looks forward to many more years of supporting this often underrepresented group of NC State students.

For more information, contact the BackTrackers at or sign up through Student Involvement at

Lorinda Janik is a senior in Social Work, BackTrackers founder and president and an intern in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.