Through “Grit and Grace,” First-Gen Student Achieves Lifelong Goal to Finish Degree

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Kim Wilde always dreamed of finishing college and earning her degree, but as life got busy and she grew older, it felt out of reach for her.

“It was always a lifelong goal, but I think for most of my adult years, I thought it was not a realistic goal. I told myself I'm too old, or I'm too busy, or I've got kids now and I work full time,” she says.

Kim had a great job as an analyst at Mayo Clinic®, but one day, she faced a decision that would determine her career trajectory.

“I've been at Mayo Clinic for 19 years and was blessed by many wonderful leaders that helped grow me and helped me move up the ladder without that college degree. But I got to a point where if I wanted to go any further, I had to have that degree,” says Kim.

She was offered a promotion that was contingent on completing her degree within five years, so Kim knew it was finally time to go back to school.

The Journey at Rasmussen

As a busy, working mom, the ability to complete her degree online was a leading factor for Kim in choosing Rasmussen University to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. The University’s history in the Mankato community was another key factor.

“Rasmussen has been in our community for as long as I can remember, and they have a great reputation,” says Kim. “When I met with an admissions representative, I really liked everything she told me, and it just made me feel like this would be a good fit. I have absolutely zero regrets. I'm really glad I chose Rasmussen.”

Throughout her education, Kim appreciated the responsiveness of Rasmussen’s instructors and support staff. “Some of my instructors even got on the phone with me to go over material and explain things more. I just had a great experience in how we could reach out through the portal for help,” she explains.

Kim appreciated that the business management program at Rasmussen offered self-directed assessments.*

“They’re offered at a lower cost, and you could go in, look at the material and basically ‘test out’ of that general requirement,” explains Kim. “They helped me expedite the timing of when I could graduate. It was one of the things I love, love, loved about Rasmussen.”

Kim was particularly excited that she could take things she learned in the classroom like project management skills and apply them to her current job. She’s even gone back and referenced assignments and papers she submitted.

“That’s been pretty cool because people might say ‘oh, you're just getting a piece of paper and already know your job well.’ But learning more is never going to hinder you. It’s only going to make you better,” she says.

The Motivation and Support to Continue

As an adult learner, juggling the demands of college wasn’t always easy for Kim.

“After that first semester I was like, ‘oh, I don't know if I can manage this with work, kids and family responsibilities.’ If I didn't have that promotion in the back of my mind as a motivating factor, it would have been difficult to continue,” Kim admits.

Being a role model for her daughters was just as powerful a motivation to complete her degree.

“I have a middle school daughter and a high school daughter. I want them to understand the importance of education,” says Kim. “I want them to also understand to do it when you're young, when you have less responsibility and your life is a little bit less chaotic, and to see how hard it was for me at my age to go back and finish it.”

While it was tough on her daughters at times when she had to focus on studies, Kim distinctly remembers a moment when she knew her girls understood the importance of her pursuing the degree.

“I overheard my older daughter talking on the phone with her friends about how mom was graduating. The pride in her voice just warmed my heart.”

Kim says support from her family and friends got her through the toughest times in school—especially those moments when she struggled with self-imposed pressures like graduating with a 4.0 GPA.

“My husband was my biggest encourager. He always said how proud and impressed he was that I was able to do this. And he would get on me a little bit about my 4.0 goal and say ‘you don’t need to do that. Getting a B is just fine,’” she says.

“I don't think I could have done it without him and the rest of my family, my parents and his parents, and my friends. My whole support system was very encouraging. They’re proud of what I was doing, so that helped a lot.”

Graduating with Honors

Kim achieved her goal of graduating with a 4.0 in March 2021, during the middle of the pandemic.

“We had a virtual ceremony the spring I graduated, which just wasn't quite the same. I always had that dream of walking across the stage and getting my diploma, so I came back the following year to participate in person.”

Not only did she return to participate in the ceremony, but Kim was also chosen to deliver the student speech at the May 2022 graduation celebration.

“When my youngest found out I was going to be the student speaker, she said ‘are you too old for that mom? Is this going to be embarrassing?’” Kim shares, laughing at the memory. “I said no, Rasmussen has a great diversity of ages, so I think it will be just fine.”

During her speech, Kim discussed the “grit and grace” it took as a 40-something-year-old college student to complete her degree. She shared one of her favorite quotes from author Darlene Brock: “Within us is everything we need to become who we are to become, it just needs to be mined and nurtured and developed. It takes grit to discover it and grace to fail in the process.” 

Advice For Adult Learners

For other adult learners thinking about going back to school, Kim’s message is clear: You can do this.

“Yes, you may have to make a few sacrifices. Yes, you may need to get creative with time management. It’s not easy, but it’s such a huge accomplishment,” says Kim.

“I’m a first-generation college graduate in my family, and I'm extremely proud that I can say I finished my degree. Everything is doable. You just need to give yourself grace and be determined.”

Mayo Clinic is a trademark of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

*Rasmussen University's self-directed assessment offerings fulfill some academic program requirements. When available, these may be attempted for a prepaid, nonrefundable/nontransferable fee of $149 per attempt. Some restrictions apply. Please see Rasmussen University's Self-Directed Assessments policy and the University catalog for more details.

About the author

Sharon Rolenc

Sharon is a public relations manager at American Public Education, Inc., where she works on media relations and storytelling on behalf of Rasmussen University. A first-generation college graduate, she understands firsthand the transformative power of education. She is honored to share the many inspiring stories of Rasmussen's students and alums.

Sharon Rolenc

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