Leslie Bentley (MdS '23)

Leslie Bentley stepped away from college in the 1970s to work full time and raise her son. She then enjoyed a long, successful career in retail management, and eventually started her own tile installation business, SatoriTile, which is responsible for eight of the large mosaics at MSP Airport, a wall at the UMN Physicians Clinic in North Minneapolis, and a 3D mosaic at Mall of America, among several other public installations. While she loved building works of art and running a business, she always intended to finish her degree. Almost 50 years later, she returned to the University of Minnesota as a Multidisciplinary Studies (MdS) student and will walk at commencement this May.

Why did you decide to return to college?

Leslie Bentley, a woman with white-blond shoulder length hair and a gray sweater, stands in front of a wall of framed pictures at her home

It has always been my intention to complete a college degree. In my freshman year at UMN in 1968–69, I got married and moved to Fort Carson, CO, with my husband. Before returning to Minnesota in 1972, our son was born. I re-enrolled in night school, but with a family and a full-time job, school became a burden. I took what I hoped would be a three-year break, expecting to return to school once my son was in kindergarten. Life unfolded differently, and though I enrolled in courses at Mt. San Antonio College, my progress toward medical school eventually stalled. By the time I was 40, I knew my age would hinder getting accepted into a medical school, but I still fully intended to earn a degree anyway.

In my 60s I enrolled in online college, but within a month I became full-time caregiver for my mom and had to withdraw again. I have never given up the idea of graduating, and after my mother passed and I was able to step back from the tile installation business I own, I finally had the time and resources to return to school. This has been the realization of a lifelong dream.

How did you find the Multidisciplinary Studies major?

I contacted Lisa (Garrett), and after we reviewed my transcript, she outlined the MdS program for me and why it particularly suited my needs. Lisa was extremely helpful and supportive of my pursuit of a degree after almost 50 years away from academia. She advised me to enroll in one or two classes to get the feel of returning to college, but I was eager to go faster because, at 71 years old, I knew that time might be working against my mental acuity. So I enrolled full-time for the fall 2021 semester with four courses (13 credits). To my amazement, I earned an A in all four courses! That boosted my confidence and qualified me to request acceptance into the MdS program and enroll in MDS 3001W. That course allowed me to solidify my course plans and continue my progress toward completing the necessary 89.33 credits for a long-desired college degree. Because my 1968 goal of going to medical school was no longer appropriate, the MdS option was perfect for allowing me to pursue my current interests while earning my degree.

Did you have a specific focus area?

Because I intended to use my coursework to enhance my many volunteering activities, I chose seven psychology courses and five art courses. Because I have always been a writer, I also chose six courses that focused on creative and technical writing.

How did you become interested in those fields?

Leslie Bentley stands in front of a large blue Special Olympics banner

In my volunteer activities with Special Olympics, Beyond New Beginnings, Make-A-Wish, and some local food shelf programs, I felt that the psychology courses and two Indigenous Studies courses would provide me with a greater understanding of the problems faced by the people I was serving. The art courses were chosen to give me some art-related skills that I could use with the young mothers and children I worked with. I also took a course on how alcohol and drugs affect families, which gave me insights into family-related issues that many of the people I served were dealing with. As a lifelong writer, I thoroughly enjoyed several courses in creative writing, short stories, University and technical writing, and communicating effectively in the business environment.

Was there a course or instructor that stood out for you?

Lisa Garrett, my advisor and instructor for MDS 3001W, had the greatest impact on my college success. She guided me wisely with course selections and was always a cheerleader for my continued progress. Other impactful courses were Astronomy (AST 1001), Anthropology (ANTH 1001), History of the 1960s (HIST 1811), Buddhism (RELS 3371), and my many art and psychology courses.

What are one or two major takeaways from the program?

Putting together my proposed degree program (assigned in MDS 3001W) was extremely valuable because it helped me identify my greatest interests and abilities regarding my studies. Structuring a curriculum that met both my personal interests and the requirements for a bachelor's degree was challenging and fulfilling. The many writing courses refined my writing skills.

What is one major takeaway that you learned about yourself?

The most gratifying thing I learned about myself was discovering how successful I could be in the coursework, despite being in my 70s. Not in my wildest dreams did I believe I could earn 26 consecutive A grades. Earning a 3.979 GPA over these current seven semesters amazes me and validates my hard work. I also expected to feel a bit awkward as the oldest student in virtually every class, but I found my much younger classmates and I could relate well to each other and respect the disparate perspectives and diverse generational experiences we could share.

What advice do you have for students just starting the program?

  1. It is never too late! Though it took 55 years to complete my degree, the satisfaction and excitement I feel is extraordinary.
  2. Stay focused on the learning. Every course broadens your perception of the world and your readiness for a great career/life.
  3. Believe in yourself, and do what it takes to be successful in school. Use the many services UMN provides for student success.


All photos courtesy of Leslie Bentley. Top photo is of Three Mississippi by artist Janet Flom at MSP Airport.