Before I came to WMU, I'd taken classes at a couple of different junior colleges and universities. But when I got to Western, it was the first time I felt like I had found a university "home." It was the first time I was encouraged, where faculty paid attention to my potential; the first time anyone said, "There is more than a college education in your future." It changed my life.
You see, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. I came from a tradition of people who worked in retail and trades. I had no role models for becoming a professor. In fact, I had no idea what graduate school was. As a nontraditional student - working two jobs and going to school - I was used to taking the classes that fit into my schedule to get the credits I needed. To have faculty member like Jim Jaksa take me aside after one class and say, "You're way beyond this. What classes are you taking?" was a brand new experience. I always say that I went university shopping, stumbled onto WMU, and got lucky!
I try to do the same with my students now - to recognize potential, to encourage, to challenge. You know, a college education today is the same as a high school education was in years past. It's the basic requirement; it's expected. And when something becomes an expectation, it becomes less special.
But as a product of public higher education, I take being educated in a public system very seriously. The public investment in education is made so that graduates can give back to society, to create social capital that will contribute to the greater good. So I insist students take higher level classes, the way Jim Jaksa and Steve Rhodes challenged me. And I take students with me into the community when I do training and development with nonprofit organizations. United Way, American Cancer Society, local charities - they have the same organizational needs as businesses but no money to invest. So when I give my time to these nonprofits, it's a way to give back to the community and give students a role model for their professional contributions later.