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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bachelor of General Studies degree earned one course at a time

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Terry Priest
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Brandi Schwartz
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Outreach & Engagement
In 1995, Evansville resident Terry Priest enrolled in his first course at the University of Southern Indiana. In December, he participated in the University's fall 2011 Commencement ceremony where he earned his Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) degree. With more than 550 students eligible to participate in the ceremony, Priest was one of three to graduate summa cum laude (a perfect 4.0 grade point average).

"I tried college when I was younger, but dropped out because I wasn't mature enough to select a single course of study and stick with it," said Priest, who is now a senior designer at George Koch Sons, Inc. in Evansville. "That decision really upset my father."

Twenty-two years later, Priest began chiseling away at a USI bachelor's degree one course at a time. He completed courses in calculus and computer programming with an initial plan to earn an engineering degree. However, after discussing his options with William Henderson, assistant professor emeritus of computer information systems, he opted for the BGS program.

"Since I hadn't selected a degree path, I spoke with Mr. Henderson to find out what it would take to complete a degree," said Priest. "Up to that point, I had only been taking courses that suited my interests. Mr. Henderson indicated that the BGS degree would be a good fit for me and that most of the courses I had already completed satisfied some of the programs requirements."

A full-time employee and father to four sons, Priest had to make some sacrifices during his journey to degree completion.

"My oldest son played junior varsity football for North Posey High School. Missing most of the games due to my class schedule, I remember him telling me about an important game against their main rival, Heritage Hills High School. After the game, he excitedly told me that he intercepted a pass, scored a touchdown, and their team won the game 21-14. It wasn't until later that I discovered that the quarterback for Heritage Hills that year was Jay Cutler, who is now the quarterback for the Chicago Bears!"

Priest would advise anyone considering a return to college to do it sooner than later.

"Start out by taking courses you want to take, not ones you have to take," said Priest. "Go to the campus bookstore and skim through the books for a particular course. Are they something you want to spend a lot of time with?"

Although he is now a college graduate, Priest doesn't plan on ducking out of the college scene just yet. With an interest in photography, Priest intends on enrolling in photography and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) courses.

"I have discovered a photography technique that captures fireflies in flight," said Priest. "One of my photos using this process was used by UHaul on nearly 2,000 of their trucks. I would like to learn more about photography and increase my skill level."

Thirty-eight years have passed since Priest dropped out of college. Today, he thanks his parents for his success.

"My mother attended the Commencement ceremony and couldn't be happier with my achievement. I thank both my parents for their constant support and dedicate this achievement to them."

For more information on USI's BGS program, contact Lee Ann Shafer, academic program manager/BGS advisor in the Division of Outreach and Engagement, at 812/464-1879 or

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