Graduation Project:

Student Stories 

Our graduates started their journey in the same exact place you’re in — thinking about returning to school. Read their stories and picture yourself on the commencement stage with your diploma in hand.

Tim Whitham, MS, EFO

Bachelor of Applied Science, Fire and Emergency Management Services

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Fire and Emergency Response Management graduate Tim Whitham, MS, EFO is teaching a pair of Core Education courses at Fire-Rescue International, the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Conference and Expo, this weekend (Aug. 7-10, 2019) in Atlanta.

Whitham has been the Fire Chief in Edwardsville, Kan., since 2015 and also serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member in the College of Safety and Emergency Services at Columbia Southern University.

Whitham’s courses at Fire-Rescue International (FRI) will concentrate on developing best practices for fire department leadership and helping fire departments of all sizes implement fire prevention strategies in a variety of settings.

“My first [session at FRI] investigates leadership rules of engagement for officers,” Whitham said. “It is designed to give participants a guide or a template to work from. Twenty-eight different leadership styles have been identified, but most of the fire officer handbooks for certification purposes only cover about four. None of [the text books] teach you what to do or what not to do.

“The class really focuses on traits that have been successful for company officers when out talking to people, but you have to do the same thing with your employees when you’re in the firehouse. You can’t just bark orders because you have that rank and title to go with it.”

The next course on Whitham’s FRI 2019 schedule will discuss how departments of all sizes can initiate programs to carry out inspections.

“The second class I’m teaching is about conducting fire prevention services for company officers,” Whitham said. “It is geared toward introducing how to establish a program and how you develop those company officers to become responsible for performing those inspections when you don’t have a fire prevention branch.

“[Fire and emergency response personnel] can’t go out and buy a book to understand how the prevention model and fire codes work, not to mention what needs to be done to start an inspection.”

Whitham highlighted two major factors of UW Oshkosh online degree programs that helped him become regarded as an expert in the field, the first being the asynchronous course structure.

“My experience at UW Oshkosh was great,” Whitham said. “I could complete my UW Oshkosh undergraduate work while I was going through the Executive Fire Officer program at the National Fire Academy.

“I flourished academically and professionally with UW Oshkosh because I could set my own schedule. Online learning was a great platform for me because it allowed flexibility of life to occur.

Whitham praised the responsive and influential faculty of all UW Oshkosh online courses as the second factor.

“I had professors who pushed me to think outside of the box. It didn’t matter if it was the general education requirements or the core requirements for my degree. The professors were top-notch and pushed me to succeed. Some of them even pushed me to keep going in higher education.”

After completing his undergraduate coursework at UWO, Whitham went on to obtain a master’s degree in Disaster Preparedness and Executive Fire Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

“I was prepared for my graduate degree experience at the master’s level. I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t get that encouragement from the UW Oshkosh professors.”

When asked about his favorite UW Oshkosh course, Whitham could not pick one in particular.

“I even enjoyed the difficult math courses because I had good professors who explained the process to us. There really was not a bad course that I had. I was there to learn and really tried to take away everything that I could from each course. The courses are what you make of them.”

To learn more about the bachelor of applied science degree in Fire and Emergency Response Management at UW Oshkosh, please visit https://uwosh.edu/go/ferm.

Terrence "Timber" Smith

Bachelor of Arts, Sociology

From the first time he stepped onto the UW Oshkosh campus in 1992, Terrance Smith has been known as Timber. After working towards his bachelor’s degree on and off for nearly 20 years, Smith still keeps his nickname of Timber, though he said only he knows the meaning behind his nickname. He graduated in 2011 and now serves as an admissions counselor at UWO.

“Every day when I drive on to campus I get out of my car and smile,” Smith said. “It’s just an awesome place to work.”

Throughout his 19-year journey to finish his bachelor’s degree in social work, Smith always attended UW Oshkosh because he said it felt like home.

“It’s the most wonderful feeling to give back through my position as an admissions counselor at UW Oshkosh,” Smith said.

Smith took a detour from his schooling when he joined the Army Reserves. When he came back to UW Oshkosh, he had a child and needed to work full-time.

Smith had 130 credits and was close to graduating but had a hard time finding classes that fit his schedule. He turned to the Graduation Project staff to help him find the courses he needed.

“You really need someone to help you maneuver through the system,” Smith said. “The Graduation Project really homes in on those who only have a few more classes to finish, and that’s the situation I was in.”

The Graduation Project helps students who have 75 credits or more from UW Oshkosh come back after at least one semester away from taking classes. Through a variety of evening, weekend and online classes, the Graduation Project staff in the Division of Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement helps returning students finish their degrees.

“The great thing about college nowadays is there are so many alternative ways to find the means to the end,” Smith said. “I would love to encourage anyone out there who gave up, but is so close to graduating, to go back and see what’s offered now.”

Smith said he wouldn’t have known how to finish his bachelor’s degree without the help he received from the Graduation Project staff or the encouragement his wife and daughter gave him.

“I had a great support system,” Smith said. “My wife was an amazing support, and my daughter was probably my biggest motivator to finish my degree. How do you tell your kids they have to go to school when you don’t complete it yourself?”

Smith is now pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership with hopes of advancing his career within the higher education industry.

“I heard about people who say they love their jobs, but I never believed it. They said if you get an education and go for something you are passionate about, you’ll find something that you love,” Smith said. “I believe it now. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

For information on how to come back to college at UW Oshkosh, contact Laurie Ahrens, Graduation Project coordinator at (920) 424-4474.

Angelee Hammond

Bachelor of Science, Human Services Leadership

Angelee Hammond left the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh during her senior year when she got married and bought her first home. Due to new financial responsibilities, her priorities changed, and education fell to the bottom of her list.

“I decided to work full time and put my education on hold. Although I wanted to return to complete my education, I kept postponing it year after year because my bills never went away,” she said.

As time passed, Hammond says she came up with more and more excuses. For example, she was afraid of feeling awkward in a classroom with younger students.

“I felt I needed to do something, but those excuses kept coming,” she said.

Finally, in 2008, Hammond decided to come back to UW Oshkosh. She contacted the Admissions Office, which got her in touch with the Graduation Project, which works with returning students who are close to graduating by giving them a step-by-step academic plan and connecting them with the right University offices and departments.

Hammond’s husband encouraged her to return to the University.

“Every month when we paid my student loan bills, my husband and I talked about the fact that I was making payments for a degree that was never attained,” she said.

Hammond, who received a bachelor’s degree in human services leadership in fall 2008, also attributes her return to higher education to her mother.

“She works at UW Oshkosh, and she kept on my case,” Hammond said. “We have a wonderful relationship and had many discussions about my education. She was my biggest supporter, and I wanted to make her proud.”

Hammond says she recommends that students who are in her situation — students who stopped out before completing their degree — consider returning because they never really know the situation they will be in until they come back.

“I thought I was going to have to retake a lot of classes because it had been so long, but they helped me work with different departments, and I didn’t have to,” she said. “You can always say ‘next year,’ but a college degree can open up so many doors.”

“I no longer feel guilty about paying student loans. I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. Completing my degree provided me with information and skills that I’ll use for the rest of my life,” she said.

 

Pamela Wood

Bachelor of Arts, Radio/TV/Film

In 1994, Pamela Wood finished her last required course for her degree in Radio/TV/Film at UW Oshkosh.

She fulfilled her general education requirements and took all of her core coursework. However, her participation in the non-credit capstone class wasn’t recorded, and she discovered she wasn’t going to get her diploma.

“During that time, I was going through a rough period and just never took care of it,” she said.

After successfully gaining employment in radio advertising, Wood felt that her degree was a matter of a technicality. She knew she met all of the requirements and didn’t feel the paper diploma was necessary.

Wood’s husband had always encouraged her to investigate her options and find out if she could receive her diploma. But as each year passed, Wood began to feel like it would be more and more difficult to go back and clear up the misunderstanding.

Finally in 2008, after being out of school for almost 14 years, Wood contacted UW Oshkosh. She explained her situation but ran into a complication.

“Because so much time had lapsed, the requirements for the major changed. They told me I had to take 22 additional credits,” she said.

The capstone course that wasn’t recorded on Wood’s transcripts isn’t offered any more.

“I hoped there was a different option,” she said.

Wood contacted the Graduation Project, which works with returning students who are close to graduating by giving them a step-by-step academic plan and connecting them with University offices and departments.

Because Wood had completed all of the requirements from 1994, the Graduation Project staff helped her go through the different departments and get the new requirements waived.

Wood received her diploma in 2009, and because of her diligence—and the Graduation Project’s help—she didn’t need to take any additional coursework.

“I knew in my heart that I didn’t have my degree, but I also knew that I completed the requirements and should have received one,” she said. “It feels really good that I got it taken care of. It’s kind of silly to have gone through all of that school work and not have my diploma.”

Nick Mocco

Bachelor of Science, Human Services

When Nick Mocco left UW Oshkosh in 2004, he was three courses short of graduating.

“I didn’t finish my degree because I wasn’t focused or mature enough to respect the education that was being provided,” he said.

During the preceding semesters, Mocco’s grades had slipped, and he re-evaluated to decide if this was the best time to finish college.

“Knowing I wasn’t going to be allowed to finish the courses I had left until I raised my GPA, I decided to venture into the real world,” he said.

Mocco currently works full time as a relationship manager for Schneider National in Green Bay, Wis. Because he plans to keep his current job, he says getting his degree was more for personal fulfillment.

“There’s this weight on my shoulders that I’ve been waiting to throw off for quite some time now,” he said. “No one has pressured me into finishing my degree; it was something I had to do for myself.”

When Mocco received a postcard from the Graduation Project inviting him to come back and finish his degree, he talked to his wife. Together they decided he should come back to UW Oshkosh.

“I felt it was the best possible time. I had been away for five years. I had matured and was ready to complete my final three courses at UW Oshkosh,” he said. “You have to do what’s right for you and be in the right place in your life.”

The Graduation Project works with returning students who are close to graduating by giving them a step-by-step academic plan and connecting them with University offices and departments.

Mocco says that sharing the experience with the Graduation Project and other adult students has made his return to UW Oshkosh easier.

“Knowing that I wasn’t the only one facing the same obstacles of handling a full-time job and a family make the experience more enjoyable,” he said. “Without the Graduation Project’s attention and guidance, none of this would have been possible.”

Mocco graduated in May 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in human services.

“It still sends chills down my spine,” he said. “I’m so excited to finish my journey where it all started.”

 

Colleen Monroe

Associate of Arts and Science

Colleen Monroe, 37, has had a long time to think about the positive impact of higher education. After leaving the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 1993, she always considered returning to college to finish her degree. One semester and two courses later, Monroe will achieve her goal, thanks to her hard work and the Graduation Project, which helps “stopped-out” students return to the University.

Monroe was awarded an associate degree from UW Oshkosh at the December 2010 commencement ceremony and will return for the spring semester to accomplish her ultimate aim of attaining a bachelor’s degree.
Though she said it wasn’t easy, Monroe feels her return to school will be worth it.

“I had a lack of confidence in the beginning,” Monroe said. “I really wondered if I could be successful because I had been out of school for so long. But I did well, and this experience was all I needed to motivate me to complete my bachelor’s degree.”

“Of course it’s stressful. It’s one more consideration I have to make when planning my week. But this was the right time for me to come back.”

Monroe credits her success to her hard work and assistance from UW Oshkosh service offices. She has worked with staff from the Graduation Project, Career Services, Admissions and Advising.

“The University has a lot to offer in terms of student services. The best part of working with offices like the Graduation Project is that I already have someone on my side. I have an ally,” Monroe said.

Prior to her return to school, all Monroe could see were the obstacles. Working with service offices, she said, helped her jump hurdles and get back in the classroom.

“I didn’t know if I would have to retake my classes. I didn’t know if it would fit in my schedule, and I still didn’t know what I wanted to major in,” Monroe said.

When Monroe connected with the Graduation Project, she found answers to her questions.

“I met with the Graduation Project staff, and they laid out a plan for me, step-by-step. They were the driving force to get me back in school,” Monroe said. “When they pulled up my STAR (student academic report) and told me I needed only two courses to compete my associate degree, I thought, ‘I can do that.’”

Monroe’s big concern in returning to school was that she hadn’t decided on a major.

Currently working as a massage therapist, she didn’t see a clear major that would help her in her current career. She worked with the Career Services office to help determine possible areas of study.

“I still didn’t know what I wanted to major in. Because it was the reason I dropped out the first time, I knew I needed help weighing my options,” Monroe said.

“The Career Services staff asked me a lot of questions and laid out some potential career paths that match my interests. I’m the kind of person who needs to have a path before I can get going. They helped me determine some goals, and now I have something to work for.”

Monroe said she’s had to make some changes in her lifestyle to make room for her classes and course work but that the sacrifices will be worth achieving her goal of finishing her degree.

“My daughter is 4-years-old, and I was concerned that school responsibilities would overtake my free time,” Monroe said.

However, Monroe has used her experience to grow closer to her daughter.
“She sees that I’m learning, and we both talk about our days at school. I try to take what I’m learning in my classes and relate it to things she knows, like numbers. We talk about school all the time.”

Monroe believes that it is never too late to return to school, and she said this time around she’s making changes that have helped her be successful.

“School means more to me now. I’m more concerned with grades, and I’m more focused on finding the right path. I’m 37-years-old, and I get to ask myself what I want to be when I grow up,” Monroe said. “I still haven’t chosen a major, but I’ve narrowed it down and am working towards the goal of completing my bachelor’s degree.”