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Degree Is In Sight and Future Is Bright For Non-Traditional English Major

Part-time student Michele Wyan has a full-time job at UC and a longtime desire to complete a degree she started years ago.

Date: 3/21/2008
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Britt Kennerly
The path to a degree has taken Michele Wyan from Ohio to Kentucky to Texas and home again.

Now, with a degree in English and Comparative Literature in sight, Wyan has a little more time to reflect on just how hard she's worked and how much she's accomplished.

This non-traditional student has much to share and will do just that March 28, as one of the speakers at UC's 2008 Women's Leadership Conference. The annual event offers women from all areas the opportunity to network and share tips and strategies for becoming effective leaders.

Michele Wyan

Wyan's session is the aptly named "Getting a Degree While Working Full-Time."

"Going back to school has increased my self-confidence and given me a deep sense of pride and accomplishment," said Wyan, who hopes to graduate in December 2008.

"It has taught me that I have many strengths, and it has given me the courage to use those strengths more. Going back to school has also made me less shy. I'm very bold now about introducing myself at parties and at other social occasions and I'm not afraid to initiate activities and events."

Wyan often uses the phrase "lifelong learning" and encourages other women "to pursue lifelong learning, whether that learning occurs in a traditional classroom or not," she said.
"I think we all need to keep ourselves mentally stimulated and challenged by trying new things and by always learning something new. The concept of lifelong learning is exciting and dynamic to me, and I would definitely describe myself as a person who is always trying new things."

After growing up in the Greater Cincinnati area, Wyan lived as an adult in Dallas, Texas, where she worked for 19 years as assistant to the associate dean for academic affairs at a Texas university. She returned to the Queen City in 2002 and now works as executive staff assistant for the Department of Ophthalmology at the UC Medical Center.

Wherever life took Wyan, her love for academia never wavered.

"I started college at age 18 and attended Berea College in Berea, Ky., for two years," said Wyan, a published writer and member of Mensa.

"However, I dropped out to get married. Once I left school, there never seemed to be enough time or money to return. After I reached my 40s, I was single again and my son was grown, so it seemed the perfect time to return to school and finish the degree I had started in my youth.  I've always been a scholarly person, and I always wanted a degree.  I just never could find the time for pursuing that goal while I was raising a family."

So how does it work for her now, taking six hours per quarter?

"My schedule is extremely packed. With working a full-time job, taking two courses leaves me very little time for anything else, especially as an English major since English courses typically involve a great deal of reading and writing each week," she said.

"I'm fortunate to be single at present and to not have small children at home, so I don't have to worry about child care or cooking or any other domestic tasks or family responsibilities while I'm in class. I do manage to find time to stay in touch with friends and to participate in writers' groups and other organizations to which I belong.  I can't go to all the activities I would like to right now if I want to get all of my homework and projects done, but I do attend enough things to keep my life in balance so it's not all school and work."

Support has come at home, at work and in the classroom.

"The department for which I work has been very supportive of my pursuit of my education," she said. "My son, who has a BA in English and history from Baylor University, has also been very supportive."

And some of the "dynamic, exciting" women she's met here at UC have helped fuel her drive to a degree, too.

She mentions English professors Kathryn Rentz, Val Gerstle, Deb Meems and Jana Braziel as inspirations. She also respects the career and educational goals of several colleagues at the College of Medicine, including Tina Sandfoss and Angie Smith, "who pursued their degrees while working full-time. All of these intelligent, articulate and exciting women have been role models for me and have taught me that a woman can succeed in any goal she pursues if she just commits herself to it."

If she had to put a headline on a newspaper story about her path to a degree, how would she word it? A variation on the talk she'll give at the leadership conference will work just fine.

"Woman Earns College Degree While Working Full-Time," she said. "It's not the most exciting headline, but it sums up my story! I haven't had much time for my own writing while attending classes, and one of the reasons I'm looking forward to graduating is to have more time to write my own fiction instead of having to write essays or term papers about other authors' stories."

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