Instructors help alumnus overcome challenge of dyslexia

Pursuing a college degree as a working adult with a young family is a challenge for everyone. Balancing schedules and family time can be tricky to manage, but imagine if you had a developmental reading disorder like dyslexia to further challenge your endeavors.

Brett Walderbach ’13 was diagnosed with dyslexia and other learning disabilities when he was in fifth grade. “I struggled with reading and comprehension throughout middle school and high school,” he said. “It was very difficult for me to keep up with the workload. This was part of the reason I did not finish college right after high school.”

Walderbach is a sales support specialist on the annuity and asset sales team at ING USA Annuity and Life Insurance Company in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2008, his wife, Liz, found out that the department at her company was moving from its Des Moines location. She needed to decide if she was going to relocate with the company or apply for a position in another department. This was an eye-opener for Walderbach. “It made me think about what if this happened to me,” he said. “Would I be able to find another job? I wanted to be as marketable as possible if the situation were to happen. This meant it was time for me to go back to school and get my degree.”

Walderbach was familiar with the Upper Iowa University Des Moines Center location. He saw numerous ads on TV for the center, and learned about UIU’s unique eight-week terms. He enrolled in 2009 and chose business management as his major.

Using a mix of classes taught at the UIU-Des Moines Center and through its online program, Walderbach worked toward his degree, but not without assistance from UIU instructors who helped him with learning the course materials despite his dyslexia. “I have to slow down my thought process when I am studying,” he said. “When reading, I still find it best to cover what I am not reading, so that I stay focused; and it keeps my mind from playing tricks on me.

“To keep up with course material, I stayed extremely disciplined and focused with my time. My wife made sure I had all the time I needed to ensure that I could not only complete the assignments but do my very best.”

In 2010, balancing work, family and school became even more important as the Walderbach’s welcomed the birth of their first child, Brayden.

As he progressed in the coursework, Walderbach had the help of Upper Iowa’s caring and knowledgeable instructors along the way, including Seeta Mangra-Stubbs who was his composition instructor. “She helped with ways to improve my writing which was very rough when I started,” he said. “The best tip she provided was to print out my papers, cut them up, re-read all the sections and then re-construct the paper piece by piece in the order that supports the thesis statement.”

With his degree in business management, Walderbach intends to further his career, as well as be a role model for his son. “I really hope that one day if Brayden were to ever have doubts of whether or not he should go to college, my story will be inspirational to him and give him the courage to believe in himself, the way my parents and wife believed in me, and how I believed in myself.

“I want to say thank you to all of the instructors that I had during my journey with Upper Iowa,” he added. “They are amazing leaders and what makes Upper Iowa great!”

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