University of Southern Indiana

Success Stories

December 2014
Nontraditional student completes BGS program to advance military career
By Brandi Schwartz, marketing coordinator in Outreach and Engagement

WestAfter 15 years of college course work behind him, West Tenbarge, a Staff Sergeant in the National Guard, has earned a Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) degree from USI. An Evansville native, Tenbarge completed the degree in December 2014 with the goal to become an officer in the Indiana Army National Guard and to open doors for future employment opportunities.

Tenbarge joined the Air Force after high school where he served active duty for eight years. He then moved to a civil service position and joined the Air Force full-time for the reserves for 10 years. He’s currently enrolled in Officer Candidate School with the Indiana Army National Guard and will be promoted to second lieutenant when he completes his training this spring.

Due to military deployments and active duty, Tenbarge attended college off and on for several years. He completed various courses at several institutions but never completed a degree. In 2004, Tenbarge decided to enroll in USI’s BGS program. He started out as a part-time student while he worked full-time and traveled with the Air Force. In 2010, Tenbarge quit his job and became a full-time BGS student.

“I resigned my position, switched from the Air Force to the Army, went through basic training and went back to college full-time,” said Tenbarge. “I had plenty of work experience. I worked in civil service as a GS9. It was a good job but I didn’t have a degree which held me back from being promoted and from becoming an officer.”

With more than 130 college credit hours in computer science, aviation, drafting and more, Tenbarge was able to transfer his credits to USI and create a customized degree through the BGS program.

“The BGS program was the only program available where I didn’t have to go back and start all over again. It was the only way for me to combine the credits I had into some form of degree. This would not have been possible with any other degree program.”

During his time as a nontraditional student, Tenbarge felt the biggest challenges he faced were having patience and never giving up. 

“I completed my degree the hardest way by dragging it out for so long. It took a lot of patience and ability. I always tried to push myself to do my best. I’d sit in the front of the classroom to put pressure on myself to be an interactive student and to be prepared. I knew I needed to finish my degree.” 

Tenbarge would advise anyone returning to college to not give up. 

“I would suggest to any college student to stick with it and finish their degree as quickly as possible. The BGS program helps you do that rather than starting over with a whole new program. I think that’s the best advice I could give.” 

As for his future, Tenbarge hopes to retire from the military in a few years and land a position with the federal government.

“It’s necessary to have a degree for many of the positions that the federal government and military has. You just have to have it; it’s a stepping-stone for your career. Without it you can make good money, you can have a good job, but you’ll always reach a certain level where you’ll just hit a roadblock. When it comes to a position with the government, a degree is required.”

December 2013
Nontraditional student completes BGS degree, begins work on master’s

By Brandi Schwartz, marketing coordinator in Outreach and Engagement
On December 14, 2013, Douglas Hazel participated in USI’s fall commencement ceremony and became one of the newest graduates of the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program. While his path to a degree took a few twists and turns, Hazel’s story is similar to many adult learners who decide to return to college and finish something they started many years ago.

Hazel began his college experience in a traditional way at Indiana State University Evansville where he majored in business. Two years later, he was discouraged and disappointed with his performance as a student and became content with full-time employment. He started in the “pot room” at Alcoa’s Warrick Operations and eventually entered a three-year electrical apprenticeship program jointly offered through Alcoa and Ivy Tech Community College. Hazel was named to the Honors List nearly every semester and completed an Associate of Applied Science degree. His career at Alcoa included selection as a union steward and a promotion to electrical maintenance supervisor.

Hazel left Alcoa to join the workforce as a skilled maintenance team member at Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Indiana (TMMI). After six years at TMMI, he began a new position as a plant electrician at Graham Packaging. The fast-paced, highly automated production of plastic bottles and jars proved challenging, and Hazel’s electrical training and industrial experience had prepared him well for the position. Changing jobs also made him recognize how much a bachelor’s degree would help him advance within the ranks of the larger employers.

With an associate’s degree and credit hours from his previous college experience, Hazel realized that a bachelor’s degree was within reach. He learned about the new Applied Studies major offered through USI’s BGS program and decided to pursue the Technical Supervision and Leadership major.

“I realized that obtaining a bachelor’s degree would be beneficial to my career and satisfy my personal goal of becoming a college graduate,” said Hazel. “The course curriculum that I followed improved my communication skills and gave me the tools and confidence to lead.”

Enrolling part-time with two or three courses each semester was challenging for Hazel, especially with his position at Graham Packaging. “The time spent preparing and being prepared for tests and projects was demanding because I worked 45 to 55 hours per week. I spent a lot of Sundays studying. It wasn’t easy, but I am glad I did it.”

Completing a couple courses each semester was the best way for Hazel to make steady progress on his degree and earn top grades. “The BGS courses helped me put in perspective what I needed to do to be prepared for graduation and what comes next. Projects in the BGS program were real-life situations that had me
using all of the courses I had taken to successfully complete course objectives.”

Now that he has earned his bachelor’s degree, Hazel will continue his education and begin working on a Master of Science in Industrial Management degree this semester at USI.

“This is very typical of many successful adult learners,” said Lee Ann Shafer, academic programs manager/advisor for the BGS program in USI’s Division of Outreach and Engagement. “Many BGS students discover how much they love learning and enter a graduate program immediately after completing the program.”

December 2011
PriestBachelor of General Studies degree earned one course at a time
By Brandi Schwartz, marketing coordinator in Outreach and 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."

Fall 2008

BGS student earns degree, advances career in banking

By Brandi Schwartz, marketing coordinator in Outreach and EngagementBgs For Commencement Newsvertical

When Debra Becht enrolled in USI’s Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program in the fall of 2008, she knew she had a challenge on her hands. Between raising two children and meeting the demands of her career in the financial industry, finding the time to complete a degree would be a true balancing act.

“Returning to college had been on my bucket list for many years,” said Becht. “While Ihad the desire, I also was concerned that I could not fit it on my plate, I was fearful that it would require more time than I had to give.”

Becht was employed as a regional retail manager at Fifth Third Bank in Evansville when her manager approached her about returning to college to complete a degree. With support and encouragement from her employer, family, and friends, Becht began to research her options.

“I started my investigation immediately and quickly connected with Lee Ann Shafer, academic program manager / BGS advisor at USI,” said Becht. “We were able to work through the details on how the BGS program could meet my needs. I quickly learned that the BGS program would take into account my professional experience and prior college credits.”

Over the next four years, Becht reprioritized her life so she could dedicate time to classwork. With the flexibility of the BGS program, she was able to complete several courses online and at off-site locations in the evening. On Saturday, December 8, Becht will become a proud USI graduate.

“Every course in the BGS program was a new challenge and every subject gave me different perspectives. I have been in the financial industry for 30 years, but knew that at some point I would reach a level where having a degree would be an absolute requirement regardless of my years of experience. Now I have that and it could potentially set the stage for the next step in my education,” said Becht.

As a nontraditional student, Becht made it a priority to encourage and help other students succeed.

“There were many times when I would walk into a class for the first time and find that I was one of the oldest, if not the oldest, student in the room,” said Becht. “I particularly enjoyed the courses that required group projects. Once someone was stuck with the old lady in their group, I like to think that they were glad I was there and that I contributed in a positive way. In fact, I made it a personal goal to maintain an A average so I could show my classmates and my children that you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Becht encourages other adults to return to college to complete a degree and advises them not to be fearful, no matter how long they have been out of school.

“The first step is to make a phone call to ask questions and get answers. Like many things in life, once you take that first step, the fear factor goes away and the next thing you know, you are sitting in a classroom learning something new every week.”

The BGS degree has given Becht personal fulfillment and has helped her advance her career. She has recently taken on a new role as director of retail operations at Banterra Bank. Becht looks forward to continuing her career in the banking industry where she will have the opportunity to learn and develop her skills for wherever the road leads her next.

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