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A Journey of a Lifetime
What’s it really like to be an online student with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville? Find out from people who’ve been there.
Learn what to expect, what to look for, and how to get the most of your experience. Get ready to embark on a life-changing journey with UW-Platteville Online!
Determination Pays Off for Business Administration Grad
Wendie McKernan wanted to be an example for her children to look up to, so after her youngest child started school she hit the textbooks and started pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree at UW-Platteville.
When her third child was born, she decided to quit her job at an insurance company so she could care for her family. She began to pursue her degree a few years later because she wanted to be prepared and qualified to return to the workforce.
Like many students, the pressures of managing a family and taking classes did wear on her. “My husband was a source of support and encouragement and I consistently reminded myself of the importance of finishing,” says Wendie.
She found that staying focused with her degree so far away was difficult at times.
“I took each day and each assignment one at a time and tried to not look too far into the future to avoid becoming overwhelmed,” she says. By staying organized and using her available time she managed through the classes. Being a full-time student and a full-time mother was a challenge, but she managed everything.
Wendie one day hopes to own her own business and she feels that the classes she took with UW-P will be very important.
She encourages both prospective and current students to consider an online degree program to make their education dreams possible.
“The flexibility and convenience make it possible for anyone to do it if they have the desire,” Wendie says. “Have patience and stay focuses on the task at hand. Time will pass and before you know it you will be done!”
"The flexibility and convenience make it possible for anyone to do it if they have the desire."
- Wendie McKernan
Determination and Online Program Result in New Opportunities
Susan Meine says she would have earned her business administration degree years ago if she had the option of studying online. "I was always impatient with what seemed like the slow pace of classroom learning and often had trouble staying focused in class," she explains. "Online classes are very structured, but it is possible to work ahead or spend as much or as little time on a subject as necessary. Basically, I can learn at my own pace."
Susan's experience as a distance learner began a few years ago when she happened upon the University of Wisconsin-Platteville's business administration degree at a distance in a directory of accelerated programs. She liked the idea of earning her undergraduate degree from one of the University of Wisconsin system schools, as well as the independence offered by the print-based courses. Unfortunately, an illness in her family compelled her to take a break from the program and it was some time before she could return. When she was able to resume her courses, she found that she now had the option of earning her undergraduate degree online.
Determined to complete what she had started, Susan decided to challenge herself to commit to a full-time schedule, with the goal of earning her degree before her youngest son graduated from high school. As she prepares to graduate this spring, she credits her accomplishment to the independence of her children, an ability to keep organized, and the option to use vacation days as a relief valve when her workload became overwhelming.
Susan is the vice president of operations for a printing company and found that as the company grew, she found more and more uses for her business administration skills. “The opportunities associated with this accomplishment and the confidence that it has given me are coming to light,” Susan says. “I was not expecting too much to change at work, but I have found that my level of involvement in all areas of the business has increased significantly. I am able to use so much of what I have learned and, to me that is more exciting than an actual promotion.”
Now that she’ll have some more free time, Susan hopes to serve on a community board or two and will be writing a column for a business-to-business magazine. “I have many years of experience in operations management and marketing and now I have the polish and confidence to branch out and add to my experience in these different ways,” she notes.
When asked if she'd like to say anything to her fellow distance learners, Susan replies: "Spread the word! There are so many adults who would like to return to school, but don't realize these programs exist that make it possible."
- Susan Meine
Life Happens, But Studies Continue
Life is what happens when you're making other plans. Stacy Merrick knows that all too well. While working on her undergraduate business administration degree through the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s distance education program, she was faced with her mother’s cancer diagnosis. She cut back on her studies to focus on healthcare issues, moving back her anticipated graduation date. Her mother’s condition improved and Stacy was then able to pick up her studies where she’d left off. “That's the beauty of this program,” she explains. “You have the flexibility to take care of family situations and still make progress on your degree, even if it's slower progress than you originally planned.”
Stacy’s experience as a distance learner began a few years ago when she saw a posting about the UWP’s alternative degree program while she was taking classes at UW-Rock County. She and her husband attended an informational meeting and were both attracted by the flexibility, attractive cost, and quality education that UWP’s distance program offered.
Now that she’s completed her long-term goal, Stacy urges others not to be deterred by the fact that it might take years to complete a bachelor's degree. “I know first-hand that it can get frustrating,” she says. “If you allow yourself to dwell on it, you can get unmotivated in a hurry. Set long term and short term goals for yourself. Estimate how many courses you can complete in a year, and set your long term graduation date goal. And always remember, plans change but decisions don't! The satisfaction of completing a personal goal far outweighs any remorse over how long it took you to get there.”
As a programmer/analyst in the I.T. department of a manufacturing company, Stacy has had ample opportunity to use her new degree. “One of my primary job duties is to support our business software,” she explains. “To do that successfully, it helps to have an in-depth working knowledge of all areas of the business. In light of that, I was able to apply my accounting coursework, HR coursework, organizational behavior, and business strategy coursework both directly and indirectly to my job."
In the months since finishing her degree, Stacy has spent a lot of time cooking, baking, and reading for pleasure. She’s also been involved in helping to plan a benefit and plans to volunteer with either her local literacy council or an English as a second language program. She also hopes to brush up on her Spanish by taking classes at a local technical college.
- Stacy Merrick
Ducklow Graduates from UWP's Inaugural Online Criminal Justice Class, Enrolls in Master's Program
Doug Ducklow saw the value in going back to school. An investigator at the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department of Ellsworth, WI, and May, 2009 criminal justice graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Distance Education program, Doug left college years ago to pursue his interests in law enforcement. But as the educational standards rose, Doug found himself unable to continue moving up in the ranks at the pace he wanted. “I’ve had job opportunities come up in the past and have been told that if I only had a degree I could have been a great part of their organization,” said Doug. His extensive experience and the insight that he would have been able to provide wasn’t enough to get him the jobs he was after. Determined to break through the barrier, he returned to school while being a member of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
As a working professional, he was not able to attend day classes offered in most brick and mortar settings. “I am required to be on call during off hours, and any major incident could take me away for days. The ability to attend classes at a distance offered me the opportunity to view the class schedule and plan my weeks throughout the semester,” said Doug.
While he says that it has at times been a strain to keep up with the coursework, organization and multitasking are the keys to success. The assignments are straightforward, flexible and highly applicable while still meeting the needs of students that are not available to attend on-campus classes, according to Doug. “The class structure allows officers to interact and be involved even though many students are working different shifts. UWP Distance Learning is right on point for working professionals that work swing shifts day or night shifts, or when traditional classes just aren’t an option.”
As law enforcement has evolved, so too have the standards for officers and supervisory staff changed due to their shifting role in communities. “The educational standard, along with increased demands on officers, has evolved dramatically throughout my career, and college-trained officers are better representatives and servants of the public. The most relevant part of the coursework is that it models current trends in law enforcement. The classes are structured to the student. The coursework is applicable to the current trends in community awareness and offers the student updates in the evolving world of public safety. UWP’s programs are adaptive to this changing role in the law enforcement world.”
Nearing a quarter-century in law enforcement, Ducklow looks to continue his involvement in the field of criminal justice. Realizing the opportunity and value of further education paired with online classes and UWP’s faculty and staff, he has started working on his Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree. “I am comfortable with the format of distance education and an advanced degree will offer me additional opportunities after I complete my 25 years in law enforcement. The coursework is well supported and relevant because the instructors are also working professionals and are from many different venues of law enforcement. UWP is an accredited university that is nationally known for its performance and has committed to standards that are not matched by many colleges with the same online format.”
"The coursework is well supported and relevant because the instructors are also working professionals and are from many different venues of law enforcement."
- Doug Ducklow
20 Years Later, Patrol Sergeant Gunderson Earns Degree
Patrol Sergeant Tom Gunderson of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department has spent his last 25 years in law enforcement. He supervises other patrol officers, responds to calls for service in his area and is involved in some administrative duties within his department. But after leaving school in 1987 to pursue an immediate career in law enforcement, he came back 20 years later to fulfill one of his personal goals: earning his degree.
Tom heard about the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Distance Education Program from a friend and colleague, and began his journey as an online student. “It is a very well-rounded program because of the general education classes we had,” says Tom. “The relevant courses I took, the people I met, the help I received, and the networking opportunities I had all made me the better officer I am today.”
Working one month of days and then a month of nights would make going to traditional classes difficult, and at times impossible for him, but Tom was able to make the transition to online classes fairly easily. “I hadn’t been in school for two decades, so managing time for work, family, recreation, and school was a struggle on occasion. I just tried to dedicate a little bit of time everyday to my studies,” says Tom.
The online format also gave Tom the freedom to go wherever he needed—or wanted—and still keep up with his studies. “Everywhere I go, I bring my laptop and books so I can study,” says Tom. “I’ve done homework in the car on the way to Washington D.C. and while on vacation. The most unusual place I did homework has to be on a mountain in Colorado when we vacationed there.”
Tom interacted with a wide range of people as a student, including the advising and registration staff at the Distance Learning Center, and he doesn’t have anything negative to say about any of them. “The financial aid people, registration staff, and everyone else was top notch and I don’t have a single criticism for them. I was completely satisfied as a student.”
While earning his bachelor’s degree was a personal goal, Tom has enjoyed some added benefits. He now teaches several criminal justice classes at Chippewa Valley Technical College and continues to take advantage of the freedom online classes offer: Tom is enrolled in the UWP Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree program. “The classes are challenging, but they’re all in my field of interest. The master’s program will open even more doors for my teaching career,” says Tom.
"The relevant courses I took, the people I met, the help I received, and the networking opportunities I had all made me the better officer I am today."
- Tom Gunderson
Two Jobs, a Family, and a Degree
Joseph Gabrish wanted to excel in his position as a police officer but knew he would not have the time to receive his education in a traditional classroom. He is now ready to graduate with a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from UW-Platteville thanks to the Distance Education Program.
Gabrish is the Chief of Police for the Town of Trenton in Washington County and a Lieutenant for the Grafton Police Department in Ozaukee County, both in Wisconsin. With two jobs, he found the online class format allowed him to study around his job, family, and other commitments. "I would not have been able to finish had it not been for this flexible program."
He found it took some time to get used to studying again since it had been a while since he had completed his bachelor's degree. "Once you get going, it is not too bad,"Gabrish said.
Time management was a key to Gabrish's success. When he started the program, he tried to set aside Sunday nights to study and complete his class work. After some time he found it was easier to spend one hour each night studying. He is thankful for his supportive family and friends who were understanding during his long hours of studying.
Gabrish's continued education has now helped him professionally. When he started working on his master's degree, he was working as a line officer. He was recently promoted to Captain due in part to his continued education. "Education is so important, and it is something that no one can ever take away from you," he said. "I think when people hear that you are going for a master's degree, they will take you more seriously."
Now that his degree is complete, he encourages others to use distance education to continue their education. "If you can afford it, it is a great experience." He feels he has enhanced his knowledge and improved his reading and writing skills. He also enjoyed meeting people around the world through the online classroom environment.
For those students currently working on a degree through online courses, he encourages them to stay motivated. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "Just stick with it and before you know, you will have your degree in your hand." Gabrish made a chart when he started his degree. Every time he completed a class, he checked it off his chart. After five classes, every class felt like he was getting closer and closer to his degree.
He plans to work on his house and "take care of all those little things that I have been putting off," now that his degree is completed. He hopes to celebrate his graduation and then take some time to relax.
"I just want to thank everyone who supported me through these past five years while I went through this program, especially Dr. Banachowski-Fuller who was a great source for information, guidance and support."
"I think when people hear that you are going for a master's degree, they take you more seriously."
- Joseph Gabrish
UWP Campus Alum Returns for Additional Degree
As an undergraduate student, Brad Schalow's adviser Dr. Cheryl Banachowski-Fuller encouraged him to take some master's level classes while studying on campus. He now holds his Master of Science in Criminal Justice after using the online program to earn his degree.
"I was familiar with UWP and enjoyed my time there as an undergraduate student," Schalow said. After taking the master's classes as an undergraduate student, he knew he would benefit from the higher level classes.
Schalow has worked as a Probation and Parole Agent for the State of Wisconsin for the past two and one-half years. "Some of the classes have given me the necessary tools and knowledge to work more effectively with the criminal population," he said. He feels that other classes have helped him with researching skills that are important with his work. Schalow hopes that the degree will help him advance in the future within his career.
He admits there were some challenges while working towards his degree. "One of the major challenges I faced was finding enough time in the day and week to do the required assignments, papers and exams," he said. "However, the instructors in the criminal justice program are very understanding and always willing to work with the student."
He found that working through one day at a time was helpful. Not looking ahead in the syllabus helped him from becoming overwhelmed. "I knew what had to be done in a given week and set my sights on getting that stuff done."
During his studies Schalow sometimes found that he was not able to spend as much time with those close to him as he would have liked. "Fortunately, they have been supportive and understanding throughout the entire process."
Schalow cautions students that pursuing an education through a distance education program is a time consuming process. "Sometimes that means missing your favorite TV Hide or staying home during the weekends," he said. "However, I have enjoyed the experience and know it has been worthwhile."
"Don't quit on yourself or the program," he encourages current students. "Remember, anyone who is able to further his or her education is certainly fortunate."
With his classes now complete, he is now ready to spend more time relaxing. He looks forward to being able to read books for fun again. He hopes to be able to spend more time with his family and friends and take the opportunity to travel.
"The instructors in the criminal justice program are very understanding and always willing to work with the students."
- Brad Schalow
Military Spouse Enjoys Convenience of Online Program
UW-Platteville's online program became a natural choice for Stephanie VanRiper when she began looking for a school to earn her master's degree in Criminal Justice.
A self proclaimed education geek, she wanted to find classes that sounded interesting to her. After researching programs through a number of universities, she decided that UW-Platteville had the right program for her.
VanRiper found Platteville's program convenient for her. With her husband in the military, she had the challenge of moving while also taking classes. She found the flexibility of the program made this possible for her. "My professors were very understanding and gave me extra time if I needed it," she said.
Planning ahead was an important part of the degree process for VanRiper. She was already thinking about her Seminar Research Paper while working through the degree. She carefully gathered information that would later be very important for this final project. "My professors were very helpful in critiquing my papers and information that I would later use for my Seminar Research Paper."
While working on the degree, volunteering was an important part of her life when she was not studying. She found the classes to be exactly what she wanted and they were very helpful in her volunteer activities. Now that her degree is complete, she looks forward to beginning her employment search and she hopes to continue volunteering.
"If you are working full time and considering distance education, time management is a must," she shares with adults thinking about pursuing higher education through an online program. She encourages any student working on a degree to continue with his or her studies. "It may seem stressful, but stick with it. It will be worth it in the end."
"It may seem stressful, but stick with it. It will be worth it in the end."
- Stephanie VanRiper
Graduate student has a hand on some of Disney's best animated films
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney
It’s that wonder and drive that led Mike Huang, an online graduate student at University of Wisconsin-Platteville, to a unique career at the Walt Disney Animation studios in Burbank, Calif. As production supervisor, Mike’s resume resembles a playbill of some of Disney’s most eclectic and popular animated feature films such as Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, Bolt, Princess and the Frog, and the upcoming holiday release, Frozen; Disney’s 53rd animated feature.
“In the entertainment industry, I honestly feel there are many routes one can climb towards success,” he said. “For me, pursuing a Master of Science in Project Management (MSPM) was an elective decision, but one I believe helps formalize practices and techniques that I may not learn from experience alone. Ultimately, I hope to find a balance of education and experience that allows me to manage our films in the most effective fashion.”
At Walt Disney Animation Studios, Huang collaborates with artistic supervisors to achieve production goals, provides critical and strategic problem solving, and communicates needs in identifying a plan for the department. A typical day includes developing and managing the department schedule and resources, representing the department in production meetings to ensure inventory and deliverables meet planned expectations, running review meetings and approvals with the directors, while motivating and mentoring the team.
Even with all that, Mike finds a way to pursue his master’s degree.
“Distance education provides a valuable experience that can be flexible to accommodate your routine. Like many of my classmates, striving professionals must be efficient with their time, and UW-Platteville allows me to comfortably continue my education without side tracking my career goals.”
After completing his project management certificate with the University of California-Los Angeles Extension, Mike took advantage of UW-Platteville Online’s transfer agreement with the Extension to turn the credits he earned there to build toward his master’s degree.
“Distance education provides a valuable experience that can be flexible to accommodate your routine.
Like many of my classmates, striving professionals must be efficient with their time, and UW-Platteville allows me to comfortably continue my education without side tracking my career goals.”
- Mike Huang
Grad Uses Project Management in Health Care Field
Kevin Straka set a high goal for himself. Not only did he want to earn his Master of Science in Business Administration, but he also wanted to earn his Master of Science in Project Management. He now holds both degrees thanks in part to UW-Platteville.
Kevin was not a stranger to UW-Platteville since he received his undergraduate degree there. “My investigation of UW-Platteville’s program returned very positive comments,” he says. Due to his busy life he enjoyed the fact that he did not have to commit a specific night each week to attend class through the online environment.
He worked hard throughout his degree to complete all of his work before the weekend. He wanted to still be able to enjoy some free time, and this plan helped him stay on track with his class work. Besides his job he also spends a lot of time doing charity work, so he had to be focused and diligent with his studies.
His classes have been very important for his work as a Health Content Facilitator for the UW-Hospitals and Clinics. He works with the Epic Software implementation program doing engineering, research and lots of project management.
“I have a great understanding of and ability to implement project management in my work,” says Kevin.
Besides his work for the hospitals, Straka also teaches an online class. “I have seen both sides of online learning,” he says. “If you have determination, diligence, good time management skills and focus to not procrastinate, you can definitely do well in this program.”
He encourages current students to stay focused on their studies. “The payback in return is well worth your time and hard work.”
Kevin plans to continue to teach now that his degree is complete. He also plans to take the Project Management Professional exam in the future. When time allows he also hopes to do more leisure travel.
“Online education requires a lot of will power and determination and direction of the student, but the return is fantastic if you are committed.”
- Kevin Straka
Degree fills niche for pharmaceutical employee
Serena Young spent four years behind the microscope working for a pharmaceutical company. Then, she decided that her life was leading her somewhere else.
“I am more people-orientated and microbiologic project management suits me better,” says Serena.
She found that within the molecular and microbiology group too much time was being spent on the research without enough time using the techniques of project management. She decided that since she liked working with people, she would pursue her master’s degree in project management.
“I knew I wanted a master’s degree, and I knew I wanted project management, but local universities had no such program,” says Serena.
An internet search led her to UW-Platteville. The flexibility of the online program was very important to her.
Serena believes she now has a very unique set of skills. “I believe that the management and the actual scientists are often very different and require varying technical skills and philosophy.” She recognized the importance of having a strong leader with a solid set of management skills to lead researchers and keep a solid plan.
Bachelor’s degrees in microbiology and chemistry provided Serena with the necessary technical knowledge. By adding the Master of Science in Project Management from UWP, she is now in an ideal position to be a project manager.
For Serena, managing pharmaceutical or other related projects will cover a number of different aspects. Project duration, the number of participants, working with employees set in old ways, project complexity and project costs will all be part of her job. She looks forward to putting her new skills into practice, this time from a different side of the microscope.
"I knew I wanted a master’s degree, and I knew I wanted project management, but local universities had no such program."
- Serena Young
A balancing act
With nine years of experience in several electronic engineering roles under his belt, Kurt Thern caught the teaching bug and landed a job with Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 2004. A few years later, he decided to further his education.
“A master’s degree in engineering with a control systems emphasis was a natural progression from my work experience and undergraduate degree. Since I teach about automated manufacturing processes, it gave me more in-depth knowledge of the theory and ideas behind the processes,” Kurt said.
The advanced degree also gives him flexibility and opportunity within the Wisconsin Technical College System.
“One of the reasons I chose UW-Platteville was they did a nice job of presenting the online program. I knew exactly what I was getting into. I researched four online programs and UW- Platteville was the most organized. I found the information I needed on the website and was able to plot out my courses for the coming semesters,” Kurt said.
Kurt started in the MSENGRG program two years ago and recently wrapped up his coursework for graduation. “When you’re done, it feels good, a sense of accomplishment and pride,” Kurt said.
He was able to balance two courses per semester, along with teaching and family obligations.
Kurt credits his successful balancing act to having a loving family that supported him, and setting priorities.
“Make time for the people and things you find most important. Don’t miss the kids’ school events or the occasional night out with your spouse. Instead, give up the extras. I scaled back on working overtime and volunteering.”
Time goes fast. Kurt’s coursework is complete. And he knows he chose the right program.
“UW-Platteville really has distance education nailed down. The curriculum and the instructors were great. I had good experiences all along. If I did have questions and called your office, Tara [Krueger ] responded within 24 hours. Every encounter was professional and the information was well-organized."
“UW-Platteville really has distance education nailed down. The curriculum and the instructors were great. I had good experiences all along."
"Every encounter was professional and the information was well-organized."
- Kurt Thern
A perfect match
Couple earns master's degrees together
Just two years into their marriage, Todd and Jessica Tadych decided to enroll in UW-Platteville’s online engineering program and complete their master ’s degrees together. After researching MBA programs, Todd and Jessica chose UW-Platteville because its online program effectively combines the technical aspects of engineering with management.
Amazingly, the couple took every class together and took one class at a time while still keeping pace with demanding jobs in their fields: Jessica as a software developer for Epic Systems, a healthcare software provider in Madison, Wis., and Todd as a transmission planning engineer for American Transmission Company, a transmission-only utility in Waukesha, Wis.
“I don’t think I would have gotten through it without Todd,” Jessica said. “Some nights, I would come home and say ‘I know I said I was going to work on it tonight, but I just can’t.’ Todd would begin working and at some point, I’d join him. We pulled each other along.”
The last semester was rough for the couple, but “we created a spreadsheet for both classes with all of our assignments and we’d discuss how much we each planned to do each night, Todd said.
Like Todd, Jessica aspires to reach a management-level position with the engineering industry.
“I wanted to do it for myself, more than anything. I just wanted to continue my education,” she said.
Many factors contributed to the couple’s success. Different strengths: she likes math, he likes writing. A bit of competitiveness: Jessica wasn’t too happy when Todd got 100 on an exam and she got a 99. And – “We learned a lot from our classmates,” Todd said. “Everyone comes from different backgrounds and sometimes only one person in a workgroup is familiar with a concept. Since we were usually in different groups, we were able to leverage knowledge from both groups.”
Management Courses Put Engineer on Path to Career Change
Californian Shawnele Morelos probably wasn't planning to earn her graduate degree in engineering from a university in the Midwest. However, when she conducted an internet search for an online engineering degree with an emphasis in management, she discovered that many of the programs offered weren't accredited. She was drawn initially to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville by the school's credentials. When she later found out that the degree she was earning was a Master of Science, her confidence in UWP increased.
Shawnele is currently a project engineer involved in the design aspect of engineering jobs. Her career goal is to use the knowledge she's gained from studying for her emphasis in management to become a project manager. "UWP was very supportive in allowing me to take an independent study for my last course where I created a Project Management folder for my company," she says. "My company had no previous project management formalities to follow, so with the independent study I was able to create templates, forms, spreadsheets, etc. for all the engineers in the office to use. Throughout the semester, and in creating the PM folder, I was able to take advantage of the instructor--Dr. Ginger Levin--overseeing my independent study and obtaining valuable feedback on everything I created."
Looking back on her achievement, Shawnele shares that it took some adjustment to become a successful online student. She was a little overwhelmed at first and took a semester off to regroup. "I realized the amount of commitment required to complete the program online, so my goal was to work hard by completing two classes every semester (including summer) until I was done,' she says. "I learned that as long as I worked to stay ahead in the classes I was able to balance all aspects of life very well. It is difficult to catch up and if you don't stay with or ahead of the rest of the class, all the discussions will eventually become a blur."
Shawnele found that working with other students in the virtual classroom was interesting since everyone came from a different background, but being a member of a virtual team for group projects did take some getting used to. "I encountered some obstacles within the classes in trying to obtain everyone's participation in a group," she recalls. "However, the fact that the professor is able to see all discussions and the amount of participation from each person in the class provided me with peace of mind. Furthermore, most classes required group and individual evaluations for each project."
"UWP was very supportive in allowing me to take an independent study for my last course . . ."
- Shawnele Morelos