In her job as an admissions coordinator for University College, the evening division of Arts & Sciences, Patricia Agnew has heard countless stories from adult students about the challenges of pursuing a college degree while working full-time, raising a family or simply trying to hold onto some semblance of a social life.
But now, when Agnew runs into students who are feeling especially overwhelmed, she’ll have a warm and inspiring success story to tell them.
Agnew will graduate today with a bachelor of science degree in psychology in Arts & Sciences, for which she earned all 120 hours of credit while working full-time at the University.
A single mother, she began seriously taking courses through University College in 1998, the same year her daughter started kindergarten.
“I tried to go the community college route after high school, but my heart wasn’t in it and I dropped out in the first semester,” Agnew says. “I was pretty gung-ho about taking classes when I started working here in 1989, but I didn’t get serious about it until my daughter started school.
“Then I decided it was time for me to get going. She’s been my inspiration.”
Her daughter may have provided the motivation, but Agnew credits her entire family with providing critical support and encouragement.
“I could never have done this without my mother and sister,” Agnew says. “I could never have gone to class two or three nights a week if they hadn’t been so willing to help watch my daughter.
“They were always there for me, telling me, ‘You can do this.'”
When Agnew accepts her degree, she’ll have a team of educational co-conspirators in the audience: her mother, Rebecca; her sister, Saundra; and her daughter, Chelsea. Team Agnew will reassemble soon to celebrate Chelsea’s graduation from Wydown Middle School.
“Everyone is so excited about going to the graduation ceremony,” Agnew says.
And while her immediate family made it all possible, Agnew credits her “University family” with making the process both enjoyable and rewarding. In addition to friends and co-workers in University College, she has a long list of “study buddies” with whom she has shared long nights mulling over homework in the January Hall library.
in Arts & Sciences
“Besides being one of my closest friends, Pat has played and still plays a supportive role in my career as a student,” says Terry Wirtel, an administrative assistant in the Olin School of Business and a longtime classmate of Agnew’s. “I have depended on her for helping me get through some of my classes and as a result, she has made going to school an enjoyable and fulfilling aspect of my life.”
Known for her bubbly personality, energy and enthusiasm — as well as wearing adventurous hairstyles and singing blues standards in the halls — Agnew has long been a familiar face to students seeking help in the offices of University College.
“Because I’m a student too, it makes me want to be as helpful as possible when students come in with a problem,” Agnew says. “If a student needs financial aid, I make sure they understand what’s available, what’s out there for them.
“I know exactly what they’re talking about because these are the same things I’ve been going through. I understand their problems.
“I know how difficult it can be to sit down and study after you’ve been at work all day, how it is to scramble for a baby sitter just so you can get to class.”
Agnew has mastered all these challenges well. She will graduate with a high-B average, having made the Dean’s List six times.
“We’re very proud of her,” says University College Dean Robert E. Wiltenburg, Ph.D. “It’s extraordinary that she has worked so hard — over so many hours and so many years — to accomplish all of this, and she has done so at a very high level.
“She’s done a spectacular job as an employee, as a student and as a mother — all at the same time.”
And while her graduation will mark a major educational milestone, Agnew is not finished. She plans to enroll next semester in the University College graduate program in nonprofit management.
“In the University College office hangs a framed, enlarged postage stamp which has the statement ‘Learning never ends’ written on it,” she says. “I’ve become a real believer in that statement.
“I started out thinking it was too late for me, that I was too advanced in years to go back to school, but that’s all changed now.”
Return to Gallery of Graduates.