Monica Smith’s path to a Lakeland College master’s degree was more winding than most, but certainly no less rewarding.
She has an interesting tale to tell, a story that reinforces the notion that it’s never too late to challenge oneself through higher education.
“Lakeland College has given me so much,” says Monica, 60. “Actually, Lakeland College has given me my life. I owe Lakeland for nearly everything.”
Talk to Monica on the phone, and you’ll feel the buzz of her energy. Life is good these days for this successful woman who, in 2003, earned her Lakeland bachelor’s degree with a double major in business administration and marketing –then followed it up with her master of business administration in 2009.
“Lakeland has always been there for me,” she says. “It’s such an awesome college. It’s so underrated and wonderful, a breath of fresh air in our society.”
Monica, retired after a 20-year career at American Family Insurance corporate headquarters in Madison, is currently an adjunct instructor for Lakeland. She teaches classes at the Madison center, and also serves as the passionate supervisor for the Town of Windsor.
It’s been about 42 years since Monica graduated from Madison East High School. She got married shortly thereafter and started a family, but felt the pull of higher education. She enrolled in Madison Area Technical College, and chipped away at classes when she could, finally earning her two-year degree in about five years.
She then looked into pursuing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but “they wanted me to take about half the classes over again. I obviously didn’t want to do that.
“But Lakeland said, ‘Yes, we’ll take your credits and help you earn your degree,’” Monica recalls. “I liked hearing that, and I liked the fact that it’s Christian-based.” Lakeland has deep roots with the United Church of Christ.
And so began a lifelong love affair with Lakeland College that continues to this day. She took classes in the Madison center, again at her pace, and she weathered some life challenges, including a divorce. She finally earned her bachelor’s degree 21 years after graduating from high school.
All the while, she was building her career at American Family Insurance, steadily moving up the ladder until ending up in the human resources department planning special events.
After remarrying about eight years after the divorce, Monica was encouraged by her second husband to continue her educational journey. So she did, while continuing to work.
“I loved every minute of going back to school at Lakeland for my master’s,” she says. “A lot of people told me I should get my master’s from a different college than the one I got my bachelor’s from. I did look around, but I just didn’t see the personalization at other colleges that I got from Lakeland. At Lakeland, they sat down with me and went through everything. Lakeland just gives you that personal touch you just don’t get anywhere else. When I went in to talk to the people at Lakeland, they gave me this feeling that this is really all about me. The people at the Madison Center are truly amazing.”
While she preferred attending classes in person in the Madison center, Monica always appreciated the flexibility Lakeland provided and continues to provide now through its innovative BlendEd course format. BlendEd allows students to choose each week whether to attend class for face-to-face instruction or take it online.
These days, life is good for Monica. She relishes spending time with her husband and two grandchildren (ages 10 and 5). And as an adjunct instructor, she continues her lifelong love affair with higher education. This school year, she’ll teach a graduate-level project management course and an undergraduate marketing class.
“My life and my educational journey with Lakeland College go hand-in-hand,” she says. “Lakeland has enriched my life by giving me confidence and knowledge I can share with my family and my community. I have a life full of opportunities. What more can a person ask for?”