Some people want a huge party or a luxurious vacation to celebrate their 50th birthday. Waltrunette Gardner ’15 wanted to grasp her diploma from the Bryan School of Business and Economics at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It was the perfect gift to herself.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling,” Waltrunette says. “This was a personal goal that I set for myself a long time ago and I’ve accomplished it.”
When Waltrunette enrolled in the Bryan School in 2012 to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration, it was her second time around at UNCG. She first matriculated in 1983 after graduating from high school in nearby Winston-Salem.
“UNCG has a reputation as an excellent university and it was far enough away from home but not too far away,” she says. “The plan was that I would become the first of my siblings to get a bachelor’s degree, but life had other plans.” Those other plans included serving in the U.S. Air Force and having children, which changed her priority from earning a college degree herself to ensuring that her kids would receive theirs when the time came: Her 26-year-old daughter attended college and her 15-year-old son is poised to do so.
After the military, Waltrunette went to work for the federal government, rising in its ranks. Today, she is a human resources director for the Office of Science within the U.S. Department of Energy. Despite her professional success, she never gave up on her own dream of earning her degree and one day, while poking around on the Internet looking at universities, she discovered that she could return to UNCG. “I was excited about the opportunity to complete my degree at the college where I initially started 30 years earlier,” she says.
Waltrunette, who lives in Olney, Maryland, in particular was thrilled to learn she could enroll in the Bryan School’s online degree program, meaning she would not have to relocate and could continue in her career uninterrupted.
In many ways, returning to UNCG after a long absence made Waltrunette’s experience even richer and more valuable. “The life and work experiences I’ve had during my gap from school helped me excel in my classes,” she says. For instance, she was able to draw on past workplace challenges and successes to illustrate and illuminate lessons she learned through her coursework. One area in which Waltrunette had less prior experience on which to draw was technology. In fact, she described herself as “technologically challenged.” Today, she is far more confident and proficient, thanks to several semesters spent using a wealth of tools—from video to Google Docs—to collaborate with classmates, do research, make presentations and more.
“I was exposed to so many communications tools and educational modalities,” she says. “I significantly improved my skills in those areas.”
In her current position, Waltrunette regularly draws on of the problem-solving strategies she learned in her Bryan School courses. “My human resources, leadership and even business strategies classes help me in my job on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “It’s made me a better manager.” And, after she retires from her government work, those same skills would allow her to start her own consulting business. For now, however, she is thrilled to have celebrated her milestone birthday with her long-awaited degree in hand.