Where Richmond students study probably is as varied as the students we ask. For Kirsten and Andy McKinney, a married couple who received their diplomas at SPCS Commencement this year, their preferred study location was their own home.

Kirsten McKinney, GC’15, and Andy McKinney, C’15, both graduated from the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies on May 9, 2015. Kirsten earned a master’s degree in liberal arts and Andy earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies

Andy was the first to share their collaborative study habit. “We both understand what it’s like be committed to schoolwork,” he said during a recent conversation. “There isn’t a conflict as far as priorities. The house becomes a collaborative study space!”

Kirsten explained a little more about the way their house became a collaborative study space. “You know, we get along so well, we’re a really good team. We’re good at traveling together,” Kirsten notes, then added, “and now we know that we’re also very good at studying in the same space. We just like hanging out together, so if that meant Andy was reading Freud and I was editing my research paper, we were together and it was fun.”

Reading Freud and editing a research paper together is one way to spend time together, but for Kirsten, Andy, and hundreds of other adult students it’s how nights and weekends are spent when not attending class. Being able to spend that time working together is what Kirsten and Andy valued.

“It was definitely more of an advantage to be going through the same thing together,” Kirsten reiterated about their learning experience. “We just helped each other out and balanced things.”

Kirsten and Andy have many things in common, including their appreciation for art, art history, and culture. Kirsten works as a graphic designer for University Communications here at Richmond, while Andy works as a graphic illustrator for a national sign company, ImageWorks, located in Ashland, Va.

Their paths to earning their Richmond degrees resemble one another, too. Andy earned quite a number of college credits over several decades of taking art and art history classes at VCU, the Savannah College of Arts and Design, and other institutions, but never earned a degree.

Why did he decide to return to school and finish a degree? “I wanted to finally get a degree for career advancement reasons,” he responded, “but also for personal satisfaction as well — I wanted to have something to show for my education.”

Kirsten attended community college on scholarship, then transferred to VCU to complete her undergraduate degree. While working at VCU and at the State Council for Higher Education, she looked for a graduate degree that matched her scholarly interest. None of the programs she found quite fit, until she found the Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program at SPCS.

“While working at VCU, I tried a couple of different graduate options but nothing seemed to really get me excited about learning,” she admitted, then continued. “When I came to U of R, I really wanted to take advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the MLA program.”

Their SPCS degrees matched their educational needs and interests.

Andy came to Richmond with a number of transferrable credits and an interest in art and art history. The School’s Weekend College program, a two-year degree completion program with classes offered Friday evenings and Saturdays, met his need for a program that could take plenty of transferrable credits, allowed him to work full time, and appealed to his broad-based interests in arts, culture and history.

Kirsten’s focus on 20th century American art and culture required a broad-based customizable approach and curriculum. That’s exactly what the MLA offers.

“I was intentional about trying to find connections between my courses and an artist or movement that interested me,” she reflected on her program of study. “I thought I would be at a loss, especially with the required science course, but the instructors always seemed interested and supportive about my choices.”

As a couple who used their house as a collaborative study space, it’s not surprising that the University resource they valued most was another collaborative study space, Boatwright Library. Andy was able to access the wide variety of materials required of an interdisciplinary degree, while Kirsten was able to tap into the library staff and the interlibrary loan program.

“Because of the staff at Boatwright, I was able to do research using microfilm from the New York State Library, and I eventually turned my research into a database,” Kirsten explained, then continued, “Thanks to the Boatwright staff, the database is available on the internet and I hope that future researchers will be able to use it.”

What does the future hold for the two? Andy will have his “eyes open as always for a job that is better suited” to his interests, while Kirsten plans to enroll in the SPCS adjunct faculty certificate training and then “see where that leads.”

What about that collaborative study space, their house?

“Our house has probably been the most neglected,” admits Kirsten. “Lots of dust bunnies to chase down after graduation.” But the two play to their strengths: Traveling together, enjoying coursework together, and working on their collaborative space.

“We do have a lot of house projects that have been put off,” Kirsten remarks, “and a trip planned this summer to the west coast.”

Enjoy each other’s company.