Adult students celebrate their accomplishments at in-person event

Side profile of a woman clapping

There is no right time to pursue an education. Nidia Bañuelos, an assistant professor in the Division of Continuing Studies’ Liberal Arts & Applied Studies, spoke of how education comes to students when it is time for them.  

“I was nine when my mom graduated from college with a degree in early education. It was a fun time for me,” Bañuelos says. “I remember thinking college was awesome. Your education will impact you but also your families, as well as others you don’t even know, in ways you can’t even imagine yet.” 

On April 26, friends and families of adult students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison came together to celebrate the accomplishments, perseverance and hard work of these extraordinary learners. Exuberant laughter and lively cheering filled the room as Adult Career and Special Student Services (ACSSS) honored returning adult students for their various achievements.  

Close to 50 students received scholarships and another seven were recognized as Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Award nominees, finalists and winners. Seventeen Badger Ready students and graduates were also included in this year’s celebration. 

The returning adult and nontraditional student scholarships and awards are offered thanks to the generous contributions from donors who are inspired by the exceptional commitment and dedication of adult students. Several donors were in the audience and many faculty and staff members showed up to support students.   

Each adult learner exhibited aspirational and navigational capital to help them overcome challenges — like incarceration and illness — and find the opportunity to attend college. These students hope to use their education to help others and create more inclusive spaces.   

Enjoy reading about the students’ inspirational stories in the 2022 celebration booklet and browse a few photos from the event below showing how these adult students celebrate their accomplishments. 

A wife, husband and their son posing with Bucky the Badger
Amie Swanson lives in Madison with her son and husband as she works her way toward earning an undergraduate degree in psychology. Once she graduates, Swanson plans to work as an at-risk youth counselor with the long-term goal of pursuing her master’s to become a licensed mental health therapist.


A woman and her two kids standing behind a sign that says "I'm A Badger."
Zalissa Zongo Kafando is a first-generation undergraduate student from Africa who has maintained a 3.9 GPA while working full time as a caregiver and taking care of her family. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in information systems at the Wisconsin School of Business and plans to work as a software or data engineer after she graduates.


Man in striped shirt standing on a podium.
Robert Hall’s life was radically changed when he was convicted of multiple nonviolent felonies as a young adult. He entered college in 2015 after pursuing education while incarcerated, and he is planning on graduating with a double major in genetics and history. Robert is also developing a group to help formerly incarcerated people attend college.


A husband, wife and their two kids smiling behind a sign that says "I'm A Badger!"
When Joshua Miller was a teenager, he sought help for personal struggles, but social services did not adequately address his needs. Fast forward a few years, he became a father, husband, assistant store manager and part-time student. He found success through the Badger Ready Program and hopes to use his degree in rehabilitation psychology to become a role model for young adults in recovery.