Purdue University Global’s flexibility helps students reach academic goals
“It’s always a great reminder to me of why we do what we do,” says Dooley, the University’s chancellor. “You put in all of this work, and sometimes you don’t know how much you accomplished. But then you see people coming across the stage and see their smiles and hear their stories.”
At commencement, Dooley gets an opportunity to meet a graduate like Sheila Taylor, who didn’t even take a semester off from her pursuit of a master’s degree in accounting and taxation despite undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Or Cynthia Walker Middleton, who studied engineering at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus in the 1970s and always wanted to complete a Purdue degree. Now working as a pharmacy technician in Georgia, she used Walmart’s guild education partnership with Purdue University Global to complete an online bachelor’s degree where her employer covered the cost.
Or Justin Marvin, a firefighter and paramedic with the Purdue University Fire Department, who took advantage of the benefit that allows Purdue employees to pursue tuition-free degrees through Purdue University Global. Despite the challenges he faces from an unpredictable work schedule and young children at home, he completed a bachelor’s degree and recently began working toward a master’s in public administration.
Life’s challenges could have prevented any of these Purdue Global alumni from completing their degrees, but they refused to use them as an excuse.
Like many of Purdue University Global’s 31,500 students, they recognized that the flexibility of its online associate, bachelor’s, graduate and law programs – a total of 175 programs in all – could allow them to persistently pursue their educational goals.
Now they are united by a common bond as Purdue University Global graduates.
Meet Sheila, Cynthia and Justin:
Once Sheila Taylor set her mind on completing a graduate degree, nothing was going to stand in her way.
Not when she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time just before starting classes, nor when she contracted COVID-19 between chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
The certified public accountant started a graduate program several years ago but couldn’t find the time to see it through. This time, she wanted to teach her daughter, McKenzie, a lesson about dedication, even when she knew it would be a tremendous challenge.
“When I got the diagnosis that I had breast cancer for the third time, I was like, ‘Man, I just signed up for school. I’ve got to do chemotherapy. I’ve got to do radiation. Maybe I should just give up,’” Taylor says. “And it was like this voice that said, ‘No, because it’s never going to be the right time. You’ve been trying to go back, and you can do this.’
“I will say it was tough. I was tired a lot and I was sick from chemotherapy, but I thought, ‘I’ve just got to push through it.’ I had to show my child that when you make a commitment, you see it through to the end.”
The Army veteran didn’t simply complete the master’s degree she set out to obtain. She did so while earning straight A’s in her accounting and taxation curriculum. And she did it while juggling a seemingly endless array of commitments outside of schoolwork.
I will say it was tough. I was tired a lot and I was sick from chemotherapy, but I thought, ‘I’ve just got to push through it.’ I had to show my child that when you make a commitment, you see it through to the end.Sheila Taylor
Three-time breast cancer survivor and Purdue University Global alumna
Taylor is a senior tax manager and also manages her own CPA firm. She is involved with multiple breast cancer organizations, including “Sock it to Cancer,” a foundation she started in 2015 to provide comfort items to women in treatment for breast cancer. She is a member of numerous civic boards and commissions in Lewisville, Texas – where her family has lived for the last 19 years – and was recently elected to the school board for the Lewisville Independent School District.
“I’m just a glutton for punishment, doing all this stuff,” Taylor says with a laugh.
But in truth, there was a secondary purpose for participating in all of those activities beyond serving her community.
“If I didn’t have those things, I would have been very depressed,” Taylor says. “There were always things I was working on, and I had to do it, so I didn’t have time to think, ‘You might not make it.’ That was a blessing. I didn’t have time to be sick. I had to get all these things done.”
Taylor had just begun chemotherapy treatment when she started classes in May 2020. Those treatments lasted into September of that year, and she had undergone only one radiation treatment when she tested positive for COVID-19 in October.
Thankfully, it was a manageable case and Taylor was able to complete her treatments after a short delay. Her doctors determined in February 2021 that the cancer was in remission.
“I still have to go like every three months to be checked out, but things have been fine,” she says. “All you can do is keep praying and living life. What I tell people is when you’ve had cancer multiple times, a lot of people wait for the other shoe to drop. I don’t think like that. I just take every day as it is and get the most out of life while I can.”
That includes steadily working toward a graduate degree – without taking any time off during treatment – that could help expand her CPA business and might allow her to someday pursue a teaching position.
“I probably should have taken some time off, but I had it in my mind, ‘You’re going to graduate on this day,’ and that’s what I was focused on,” says Taylor, who participated in Purdue University Global’s commencement exercises on May 21 in Indianapolis. “I just worked hard and got through all that stuff and made it through. I’m so excited to have graduated from Purdue University Global.”
CYNTHIA WALKER MIDDLETON
She has lived in numerous states and taken college courses in several of them, but Cynthia Walker Middleton has always had a soft spot for Purdue University.
That’s where she started her higher-ed journey in August 1975, and it’s where she always pictured the journey ending – even when that outcome seemed unlikely.
“I come from a long line of female entrepreneurs and very creative women,” Walker Middleton says. “I had always planned to graduate from Purdue, and that’s why I didn’t graduate from anywhere else. I thought I’d have to go back to West Lafayette and live through the snow to be able to graduate, so that was always an obstacle. I was raising kids, and my kids had never experienced snow, so I said, ‘Well, it’s going to be difficult for me to do that.’ But my goal was always to graduate from Purdue.”
That opportunity arrived nearly 45 years after she attended her first class on the West Lafayette campus. Fortunately, snow was not involved.
While browsing the educational opportunities available to Walmart employees through its guild education program, Walker Middleton noticed a listing for Purdue University Global. She researched and learned that she could work toward an online bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Purdue University system, thereby achieving her longtime goal.
“That was enticing for me,” she says.
Once she enrolled, Walker Middleton marveled at the experiences Purdue University Global afforded her, with empathetic instructors and supportive classmates from all over the world.
“It was just an extraordinarily positive experience,” she says. “People should know that Purdue Global allows you to make your dreams real. Don’t be afraid to sit down and learn how to Zoom, how to interact with your classmates and how to interact with the people who facilitate your education. This is an opportunity where you can live your dreams and not be confined by having to be in a classroom at a specific time.”
In the years after Walker Middleton left Purdue, attempting to attend in-person college courses proved to be a tremendous challenge while also raising two children and managing the family business, a medical footcare center.
But once she got into a routine as a Purdue University Global student, she fell in love with the learning environment and convenience of online education and began taking classes two at a time. When she graduated in September 2021, she did so with magna cum laude distinction.
The commencement ceremony was fittingly held at Purdue’s main campus in West Lafayette.
“I cannot tell you in words what a wonderful blessing Purdue University Global has been to me and what it has afforded me since graduating,” Walker Middleton says. “I’ve still continued to grow and see other things I hadn’t even thought of doing that I’ll be capable of doing now as a result of my degree and everything that comes with being part of Purdue and Purdue Global. It just gives you a whole world that you didn’t even think was possible.”
I cannot tell you in words what a wonderful blessing Purdue University Global has been to me and what it has afforded me since graduating.Cynthia Walker Middleton
2021 Purdue University Global graduate
As the son of two public servants – a teacher and the former West Lafayette chief of police – Justin Marvin was naturally drawn to an occupation that educates and protects his fellow citizens.
He found a calling as a firefighter and paramedic, where he can do a bit of what he admires in each of his parents. He followed his dad into a field dedicated to public safety. And by achieving the highest-level fire instructor rating available in Indiana, he can educate others like his mom.
Marvin determined that if he is to someday follow his father’s lead by accomplishing another long-term career goal – holding a high-level leadership position – he would probably need more than a high school diploma to merit consideration.
“If you want to be anything higher than a firefighter, there’s a benefit to having something beyond basic training and some certifications and things like that,” says Marvin, who has been a member of the Purdue Fire Department since 2016. “In our department, there is no written requirement for advanced education to do anything further, but I know it definitely helps.”
With that aspiration in mind, and after having seen co-workers like Ephina Disinger successfully juggle work responsibilities and coursework through Purdue Global, Marvin decided to complete the associate degree he started at Ivy Tech Community College nearly a decade earlier.
He had been an admittedly indifferent student in his first stint at Ivy Tech, but success in a challenging paramedic program offered through IUPUI and Eskenazi Health later convinced Marvin of his academic capabilities. When his Ivy Tech academic advisor informed him that he could actually complete two associate degrees, Marvin was up for the challenge.
“I applied the same kind of working abilities that I did in paramedic school, the same kind of momentum, and just got it done,” Marvin says. “It was A after A after A in those classes, and I’m like, ‘OK, I can do this.’”
He graduated with associate degrees in paramedicine and fire science in spring 2019, then enrolled in Purdue University Global’s fire and emergency management program the following year. The Purdue University benefit that allows employees to pursue tuition-free Purdue University Global degrees motivated Marvin to commit time and effort toward another academic credential despite a demanding work schedule and parenting responsibilities with young children who are now 2 and 4.
“Where else can you work that will offer you a chance to complete more than one degree for basically no cost? That’s a huge sense of satisfaction,” Marvin says.
Once again, the highly motivated student – with significant support at home, at school and within his workplace – experienced success in his coursework.
“I loved my professors and instructors in the program. They were very supportive. And my shift co-workers and family were all behind me 100%,” Marvin says. “There were many times where it was difficult, where you had those late nights, or you wanted to try to get some time to study at work and it just never happened.
“You might be up all night going on calls, and then you have to come home to take care of your kids, and you’re exhausted and barely can stay awake to keep them satisfied. And then you have to write a 10-page paper or whatever. It was tough but having that end date in sight helped.”
Marvin completed his coursework for the bachelor’s degree in February and participated in commencement exercises on May 21 in Indianapolis.
As of that ceremony, more than 500 Purdue employees had taken advantage of the tuition-free benefit available through Purdue University Global. Like many of his fellow University employees who are now Purdue University Global alumni, Marvin likely would not have pursued advanced academic credentials if not for this benefit.
Who knows where they may lead him next?
“You take any employee at Purdue and you’re now giving them an opportunity at a better life,” Marvin says. “It opens up so many doors, really. When I found out about this, it was like, ‘I know I can do it. I’ve already done this. Let’s go for it.’ I’m super glad I did.”
You take any employee at Purdue, and you’re now giving them an opportunity at a better life. It opens up so many doors, really. When I found out about this, it was like, ‘I know I can do it. I’ve already done this. Let’s go for it.’ I’m super glad I did.Justin Marvin
Purdue University firefighter/paramedic and 2022 Purdue University Global graduate