Returning adult students celebrated at drive-through event

Jesus Garza Noriega and family in front of blowup Bucky Badger

On a spring afternoon in late April, Wisconsin weather showed up in all its glory – warm sunshine, chilly wind, sprinkling showers and torrential rainfall. It was an apt backdrop for an outdoor celebration of returning adults students who face a spectrum of challenges and triumphs – storms as well as blue skies – on their way to earning their degrees later in life.

Twenty students and their families made their way to a parking lot near Picnic Point in Madison to be congratulated and pick up goody bags at the Outstanding Adult Student Scholarships and Awards event. They were greeted by cheers from Adult Career and Special Student Services (ACSSS) staff, including Assistant Dean and Director Martin Rouse.

“Our returning adult students continue to impress and inspire us with their dedication and resilience,” Rouse says. “I want to congratulate each and every student who weathered the storms through a challenging year to continue their education with us. We are beaming with pride and look forward to following your journey as you pursue your dreams.”

Each spring, ACSSS honors returning adult students getting their bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degrees. Last year, the event was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year, staff invited students to drive by and pick up certificates, celebration booklets and UW–Madison swag, or hop out of the car – masked and distanced – for some professional photos with their families and a blow-up Bucky Badger.

Enjoy reading about these and many more students in the 2021 celebration booklet and see the ACSSS website for more information on becoming a returning adult student.

Thanks to photographer Sharon Vanorny for the following pictures of our amazing returning adult students on this special day.

Student Noel Kroeplin looking through a Badger frame
Noel Kroeplin has one more year until she finishes her physician assistant program. “I really appreciate the opportunity for these adult student scholarships,” she says. “It’s nice to feel noticed and recognized.”


Dan Gerstl smiling with his hands in his pockets in a bucky badger shirt
Dan Gerstl was a finalist for the Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Award. He graduated with his degree in computer science. “It was a stressful journey,” he says, “with a lot of hard work, but it was worth it in the end.” He already has a job lined up and has been so grateful for the support as a returning adult student that he plans to help other returning adults in the future.


Student Kewiana Pollard smiling and looking through a Badger picture frame
Kewiana Pollard is studying communications and looks forward to a bright future, including attending law school. Going back to school as a returning adult student was challenging at first, but she got help from Madison College, where she was a student leader. A single parent to three boys, she says, “I’m glad I could come here and accept my award today. Graduation (from Madison College) in 2020 was shut down due to COVID so this was a nice opportunity to celebrate.”
Student Megan Mercier standing with her family outside
Megan Mercier is a first-generation undergraduate student studying social work on a pre-med track. A single parent to two daughters, she spent nine years living in poverty while working multiple jobs, studying, volunteering, writing and creating a warm home for her family.


Molli Pauliot and her granddaughter outside
Molli Pauliot is working on her PhD in cultural anthropology. As a member of the Ho-Chunk community, she hopes to conduct research in a culturally appropriate way and share stories of indigenous people. Molli came to the event with her granddaughter.


Kasey Kohlhardt looking through a Badger frame outside
Kasey Kohlhardt will graduate next spring with a master’s degree in social work. She’s worked full time while getting her degree and called it a “very long journey.” She adds, “It’s so nice that they are recognizing us here. I love the fact that these scholarships are out there for students like me who didn’t follow the traditional path in education.”


Kassandra Gossens and partner standing next to blow up Bucky Badger
Kassandra Gossens is studying psychology and is a McNair scholar at UW–Madison. After a successful experience at Madison College, she says it was hard coming in as a transfer student but, “I got over it pretty quickly because people were so darn friendly. There is a great sense of community among adult students, and I am glad to be a part of that.”


Student Janel Hutchison looking through a Bucky Badger frame
Janel Hutchison had a 13-year career in professional ballet. This spring, she received her bachelor’s in community and environmental sociology and life science communication. She’s eager to start a master’s in human ecology. “I always want to keep growing and learning,” she says.