Never too late: Nicolet’s Academic Success program provides path to diploma
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
TOMAHAWK – For many people, the traditional path to earning a high school diploma involves attending high school for four years. However, for others, including Esther Pagel and Warren Short, a local college provided them with the opportunity to do so in another way.
Pagel, 67, of Tomahawk, and Short, 72, of Wonewoc, near Wisconsin Dells, graduated from Nicolet College’s Academic Success Program, obtaining their GEDs. The program is paid for by a grant at Nicolet, meaning there is not cost to students.
Nicolet College Academic Success Adjunct Instructor Cathy Schmit explained that Nicolet has an Academic Success center at its Rhinelander campus, along with an outreach center at the Tomahawk Public Library in Tomahawk. Outreach centers can also be found in Carter, Crandon, Eagle River, Forest County Potawatomi Community, Lac du Flambeau and Minocqua.
The Academic Success program at the Tomahawk Public Library meets in the Community Room every Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We offer almost any kind of support that a student might want, from getting GEDs and HSEDs to English language learning,” Schmit said, adding that students can also visit any outreach center for support with their Nicolet classes. Help with crafting résumés and cover letters and career planning are also available.
“It’s kind of whatever students need to be successful in the academic world, and also in the work world, if that is something that they’re choosing to do,” Schmit stated.
Pagel said she was slated to graduate from high school in 1971, but things didn’t work out as planned, so she’s been working on and off ever since to earn her GED. However, she said she “really buckled down” over the last year or so.
“I made a promise to my aunt before she passed away that I would get my GED,” Pagel said. Although her aunt passed away in August before her graduation, Pagel noted that she felt her support throughout her academic journey.
“She was with me all the way,” she said.
Short started with the Academic Success program about four or five years ago. After not passing second and seventh grades as a child, he said struggled in high school and eventually dropped out. He entered the workforce, working primarily as a truck driver. He noted that after hearing about the program from someone who had completed, he decided to give it a try.
“And I’m only 72 years old,” Short said with a smile.
“72 years young,” Schmit quipped.
For Pagel and Short, the manner in which they earned their GEDs is as unique as the roads that brought them to the day of their graduation.
“There are different ways to get a high school diploma,” Schmit explained. Although the most traditional way is to go through high school, there are also GED and HSED programs. Schmit described the HSED as “a GED on steroids,” noting it includes some extras that aren’t included in the GED, such as career planning.
“It’s just that much better if you’re going into the workforce if you leave with a nice career portfolio ready to go. You’ve got your cover letter, you’ve got your résumé, and you’re ready to get to business.”
Schmit also described the 509 program, in which students that struggled academically in school and have a hard time with test taking study until they reach a designated level of competence, rather than trying to achieve a certain score on a test.
In the 509 program, students are required to prove competency in a list of items within each subject area. Schmit added that there are hundreds of competencies involved in the 509 program, citing that students must learn to type 30 words per minute in the Language and Communications section as an example. Students also study math, science, social studies, health and civics.
Even though the workload for the 509 program is heavier than that of a normal GED program, both Pagel and Short decided it was the right path for them.
United States history piqued Pagel’s and Short’s interests, Schmit pointed out. Pagel wrote an essay on Harriet Tubman, the founder of the Underground Railroad. Pagel noted she had never heard of the Underground Railroad before writing her essay and that she learned a lot both about Tubman’s life and slavery. Short’s essay, focused on the Wright Brothers, taught him not just about the early history of aviation, but how planes changed the course of the world, from air travel to their use in war.
Pagel and Short agreed that the 100-question civics test proved to be one of the most difficult of the entire program. Schmit noted that after completing the course, both Pagel and Short are more informed on current politics and understand the workings of the American government better. Pagel noted that she learned a lot about the impeachment process, a relevant topic today.
Finally, after many of hours of hard work and dedication, Pagel and Short completed the 509 program and earned their GEDs.
Pagel said she received messages of support and congratulations from over 250 people on Facebook during her journey with the Academic Success program, adding that messages and comments flooded in after posting a picture of herself wearing her cap and gown for graduation. “I never thought I had that many friends!” she said. “I was very proud of myself that I did it. Finally, after 48 years, I got my GED.”
Now that they’ve earned their GEDs, Pagel and Short plan on taking a little breather. Short noted that he’s considering earn
ing a welding certificate.
“I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it without Cathy’s help,” Short said as Pagel nodded in agreement.
“She pushed us. I don’t think we could’ve done it without her,” Pagel added.
“They would have,” Schmit said with a smile. “They were very inspired to do this.”
For information on Nicolet College’s Academic Success program, call 715-365-4455 or 800-544-3039 ext. 4455, email [email protected], or visit nicoletcollege.edu.