1970 Graduate Is a Student Again, This Time in Scuba Gear
From an out-of-air emergency to 50-pound cargo, from blossoming friendships with college students to water exploration, Jill Campbell '70 is embracing her second chance as a student.
Jill Campbell ’70 has experienced the “scariest thing any scuba diver could experience," according to Michael Heitzenrater, adjunct lecturer at SUNY Brockport.
And it happened during the course PES 213 Scuba Diving in the 50-meter pool in the Tuttle North natatorium.
“I must’ve gotten distracted when I was turning my air on for my tank. I turned around in the pool to watch my instructor (Heitzenrater), and I couldn’t get any air. No air — when we’re down 16 feet! I signaled to my partner, completely bug-eyed, and dropped my weight belt. She started travelling up a little faster than I did, and she grabbed my arm and pulled me to the top,” said Campbell with a laugh.
Campbell thanked her partner, Jenna, for saving her life.
“When I was hanging onto the side of the pool, I thought that was my last class,” said Campbell. “But I knew I couldn’t let Jenna down, because I was her buddy.”
Campbell’s newfound friendship wasn’t the only reason she knew she had to give it a second chance. Her participation in the class was 50 years in the making.
After Campbell suffered a back injury as a junior at the College, she could no longer complete the requirements of one of her majors, physical education.
But 50 years later, her back doesn’t bother her a bit. With a second chance at pursuing her passion for P.E., she dove right into scuba diving — among the newer additions to the College’s curriculum.
Campbell, who earned a degree in speech and minor in biology, worked as an administrator at the College for most of her career. “I would go through the list of physical education courses, and I would see scuba diving. I’ve always wanted to see the underwater world,” she said.
Thanks to the Lifelong Learning Program, which allows community members aged 60 years and older to take classes for free, she will.
Campbell is the first lifelong learner to sign up for the scuba-diving course.
“Because people have a variety of interests, we are always trying to promote different courses available for auditing. I was thrilled when Jill registered, because it was the first time the class was being promoted to lifelong learners," said Professor of Social Work Jason Dauenhauer ’96, director of the Lifelong Learning Program.
Campbell takes the course alongside six other students, who she calls "nice and supportive." They help her carry her heavy scuba tank. In return, she keeps them laughing with her jokes and mishaps.
Campbell and her classmates wear roughly 50 pounds of scuba gear during each class, including weights to keep them under water, a buoyance control device, a tank, regulators, a guage, and more. “It’s easy in the water, but not as much when you’re walking," said Campbell.
Taking PES 213 will give Campbell the opportunity to become a certified scuba diver.
“Most Lifelong Learning courses don’t require you to take tests or write papers, but I’ve taken the tests [in this course] so I can receive permanent certification,” said Campbell. Based on her test scores, Campbell is eligible to become certified — but only after she completes a series of open-water dives.
“The first dive gets you down 16 feet and the fourth 60. If you do five dives and pass everything, you can go down to 130 feet as a recreational diver. I don’t think I need that,” Campbell said with a laugh. “I’ll stick with 60. Sixty feet is half of the Allen Building; 130 is Mortimer!”
Campbell and her classmates may take a trip to a quarry in Ohio for their first dive test.
But Campbell is most excited about water of the warm varieties.
“I look forward to seeing coral reefs and different kinds of fish,” said Campbell. Her grandchildren love water, so she assumes they’ll enjoy diving with her someday.
Next on her list of lifelong learning pursuits? A fish identification class.
“If you have a mindset that you’d love to do something, but you can’t, you’re not going to do it,” said Campbell. “But if you have the mindset that something looks interesting and you decide to see how it works out, then if it works out, great. If it doesn’t, at least you have no regrets.”