‘Knowledge is power’ in the life of a non-traditional student

Eric Peterson (left) poses with his daughter Alexandra and son-in-law Jesse Blad after the trio graduated from Upper Iowa University last spring. Peterson, 43, returned to college to earn his bachelor’s degree and is currently working toward a MBA.

As Eric Peterson sat down with his newly acquired Bachelor of Science degree from Upper Iowa University, the 43-year-old took not only great pride in achieving one of his lifetime goals but to graduate on the same day as his daughter Alexandra Peterson and son-in-law Jesse Blad made the experience even more memorable.

“It was one of the best days of my life. Words cannot describe the feeling of accomplishment I had knowing I was finally graduating, and with honors on top of it,” admitted Peterson. “Looking back at all those long nights of studying that often resulted in me missing a number of family activities and events…and the joy I felt in seeing the first of my three daughters finish college, it was truly an epic moment in my life. There were so many times that I wanted to give up, but my family was in the trenches with me every step of the way.

“I had children at a young age and the one common statement I remember hearing was that the majority of people who have kids at a young age were doomed to poverty. I didn’t want to become a statistic or be a stereotype. I felt the need to prove to myself and show I am capable of doing something I can really be proud of,” he added, while explaining his reason for pursuing a degree after approximately 20 years away from school. “At the same time, I believe earning my BA and potentially a MBA sets a good example for my children.”

Eric and his wife, Vongvanny Bernadette Peterson, have three daughters Alexandra, Audri and Olivia. A John Deere assembler, Peterson said he chose to attend UIU knowing that the University’s online and self-paced degree programs cater toward non-traditional students. He noted students can study through the distance learning online or self-paced degree programs. This allows the students to have global access, with no need to be on campus for a residency requirement.

When first attending the UIU-Waterloo center, the Mason City native discovered it wasn’t “as scary” of an experience as he thought it would be. Although accounting, quantitative business decisions or statistics may not be considered enjoyable classes for many people, Peterson said the instructors at UIU realize this and present the curriculum in a manner that keep students wanting to learn more.

“The Upper Iowa faculty and staff have all been terrific and are some of the nicest and most helpful people I have ever met. They have experienced the same struggles that all students go through and that makes it more comfortable to talk to them about issues you might be having,” said Peterson.   “When you need help and ask them a question, they always work with you to find the right answer. They will not let you fail as long as you are willing to put in the work.”

While he has just started to pursue his master’s degree, he is confident that furthering his education will further open exciting and challenging opportunities.

“I would like to ask current students, ‘If you’ve already come this far, why stop at your bachelor’s degree?’” concluded Peterson. “I feel that some people get their undergraduate degrees and are content with that achievement in their lives. There is nothing wrong with that but if your goal is to run a business or a branch of a business, a master’s degree is what is required by most companies these days. I strongly believe knowledge is power.”

Returning to college can be challenging for non-traditional students who are balancing a career, family, and/or community obligations, but with a bachelor’s degree in hand and a master’s degree soon within his grasp, this adult learner plans to now enter the management field and eagerly anticipates working his way up the career ladder.

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