Hannah Brech: Listener, defender, adult learner

Gerson Flores

On a campus of tens of thousands of traditional students, an adult learner has taken on a leadership role to help others feel welcomed and represented.

Once the spring semester began in 2019, Hannah Brech, 32, decided to continue pursuing her degree at Colorado State University and joined the ranks of thousands of other adult learners scattered throughout campus. 

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Brech is a sophomore pursuing a psychology degree at CSU, a peer adviser for Adult Learner and Veteran Services, an associate senator for the Associated Students of CSU and one of the many adult learners on campus. 

Brech said she believes in the importance and value adult learners bring to the community.

“We have a sort of hidden value,” Brech said. “We have a lot of life lessons we’ve already learned. We have a lot of wisdom. We have a lot to give, (and) we have a lot of perspectives that would be super helpful if we were able to be more visible and to work together with the traditional-age students.”

After being part of the workforce for over 12 years, Brech realized that being a psychologist was still one of her dreams.

“I wanted to be a psychologist since I was 12,” Brech said.

In January 2019, she made the choice to pack her belongings and move to Fort Collins from Austin, Texas.

“It was intense; I left a career, and I lost a lot of my independence, and I didn’t know about (the ALVS) office yet, and being an adult on campus is weird,” Brech said. “I’m a good decade older than most of these students. It’s really hard to connect with people and find common ground.” 

Transitioning into college can be hard, and adult learners often face unique challenges, like students of any age, Brech said.

According to CSU’s enrollment statistics, in the fall of 2019, 5,822 students enrolled were adult learners, meaning they are 24 or older. Brech said she believes that if CSU raises awareness around these students, great things could happen. 

woman presents a bill
Associated Students of Colorado State University Associate Senator for the Adult Learner and Veterans Services Office Hannah Brech presents the Student Parent Absence Resolution 4907 at the Nov. 13 senate session. (Matt Tackett | The Collegian)

Interactions with students and teachers can also be a source of discomfort for many adult learners.

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“Some of us have received snide comments from professors; some of us have received snide comments from other students,” Brech said. “There seems to be a societal story that you graduate high school and you go directly into college.”

Brech said she believes, because of the norms surrounding college, her story often rubs people the wrong way.

“I was doing well in my career, and it takes a lot of courage to make those transitions in life, … and then to get here and to feel like you’re not welcome, when we paid the same tuition and all that stuff, is really disheartening,” Brech said.

Instead of letting the hardships bring her down, she used them to push herself to give back to the community and to help others. 

“I wanted to be that person I didn’t have: somebody to show me the ropes and get me connected and if I had questions, (somebody to) answer them,” Brech said.

Brech is a peer adviser at ALVS because she wants to help people like herself.

“Hannah is very caring; she loves to help others, and she knows how to listen when someone needs to talk,” said Josh Johnson, an ALVS peer adviser and senator for ASCSU. “She’s able to do one-on-ones with people and help them open up and feel welcome and heard.”

Brech’s experience at CSU has also been full of surprises and pleasing events, she said. At CSU she experiences an array of perspectives that help her shape her image of the world and help her better understand people. 

“I’ve learned a lot because it’s a different generation, so it’s a different perspective,” Brech said. “It’s given me a huge appreciation for how much we have to learn from each other. There’s a lot of knowledge that can be shared to help make each other’s lives a little better.”

Brech said she will not wait until someone else does what she believes is the right thing. She is not one to follow the norm, which is why she said ASCSU was the perfect fit for her.

Brech joined ASCSU to represent adult learners on campus.

“Our experiences are a little different (than traditional students), and I wanted to make sure that we had a voice in student government and that our needs were being represented,” Brech said.

She believes her work is not over yet. Both she and Johnson acknowledge that while ALVS is a great community and a great space for adult learners, the perspectives of traditional students need to change. Traditional students need to obtain a clear picture of adult learners.

“She’s also got a good fight in her when it comes to defending those who aren’t represented very well,” Johnson said.

And Brech will continue representing those who are not represented, and she will continue helping others and the community. 

“I can change people’s (lives) and … change the community by helping people get through those really nasty moments in their life,” Brech said.

The solution to the lack of knowledge surrounding adult learners she proposes is awareness — awareness around adult learners, ALVS and all the knowledge and wisdom every student has to offer.

“Don’t be afraid of growth and change, even when it’s not the norm,” Brech said. “When you’re faced with these sorts of decisions, like going back to school at 30, then you do the thing that is going to give you success, even if it’s scary and even if it’s hard.”

Gerson Flores Rojas can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @GersonFloresRo1.