After a 23-year hiatus from higher education, Chris Wermelskirchen took the leap and returned to school and earn an Associate of Arts in Business degree from Baker University School of Professional and Graduate Studies in 2009.
That same year, his brother was diagnosed with cancer, and from 2014 to 2016, Wermelskirchen lost his father, his mother, and his brother, and school wasn’t a priority. But in 2017, he decided to honor of his family by returning to school and finish what he had started. He will complete his AAB on April 1, and plans to waste no time starting his next adventure; Wermelskirchen is set to start his Bachelor of Business Administration program the very next day.
“I thought to myself, ‘You know what, not only to make yourself proud but to make your parents proud, you should go back to school’,” Wermelskirchen said. “I’m proud to say that I will be the first child of my parents to graduate from college.”
His mother was an educator and his father was a factory worker. Their drive and dedication were always motivating factors for Wermelskirchen. Since starting his program, he has earned a 4.0 grade point average and will graduate Magna Cum Laude. He said he is truly just enjoying the experience.
“It’s a blast,” Wermelskirchen said. “I’ve told my kids their entire lives that a day without learning is the day I’m no longer on earth. It sounds cliché, but I truly am having fun at Baker.”
Wermelskirchen’s children have been a source of inspiration for him throughout this experience. His eldest Andrew, who holds a master’s degree in theology, often talks with him about classes and assignments, and share their pride for hard work, thirst for knowledge, and academic achievements. His daughter, Taylor, earned her bachelor’s in secondary education, and his two youngest sons, Noah and Jacob, are freshmen in college and high school, respectively.
Wermelskirchen considers it a blessing to be able to share this experience with his children.
“I’ve always supported (my children) in their endeavors,” Wermelskirchen said. “It’s just kind of neat to turn around and share it with them now.”
The odd part, for Wermelskirchen, is that some of his classmates are the same age as his children.
As one of the oldest students in his program at 50, returning to school to finish his associate degree was a little intimidating. But as someone who proudly calls himself the “oldest young person” he knows, he has enjoyed learning from students with different experiences and believes it to be one of the biggest benefits of the online format.
“A lot of times, I’ve already established opinions about something and (my peers) bring something to the table that I had never considered before,” Wermelskirchen said. “The difference in age, in the beginning, I thought would be a problem. In hindsight, I’ve benefited from it. It shows me that you can teach an old dog new tricks.”
In addition to his classmates and children, Wermelskirchen has also been inspired by his instructors. Katie Cochran, who taught is political science and American government course, “was just terrific,” he said. She encouraged him to inspire his classmates through his responses, rather than feeling out of place because of his age, and encouraged him to go above and beyond in his work.
In Cochran’s words, Wermelskirchen—“Werm” as her class called him—was a “once-in-a-lifetime student.” He was not afraid to share his thoughts with the class, but was also eager to learn from his peers.
“Chris is the sort of student that is rarely seen in a classroom, and when he is, one has to appreciate him,” Cochran said.
Being able to inspire a student like Wermelskirchen means the world to her.
“It means that the time I spent focused on creating the course, grading, and engaging with students is worth it,” Cochran said. “Teachers make sacrifices every time they teach a course, but those sacrifices are worth it if we can help just one student see the world in a different way or help them make sense of the world around them.”
Cochran believes that Baker’s program gives students like Wermelskirchen the freedom to express opinions, which helps them learn about various sides of an argument.
“I have taught students from ages 17 to 70, students of all races and religions and walks of life; I feel the SPGS school naturally draws together people with diverse experiences,” Cochran said. “Students from all ages and backgrounds come together, and this can be very beneficial when they are able to learn from one another.”
Wermelskirchen, who serves as a senior IT technical project manager, has enjoyed being able to apply what he learns in the classroom to the workplace. He’s proud to have finally taken the leap to return to school and is grateful to everyone who has supported him along the way.
“I’ve had incredible professors that have inspired me to not do just the bare minimum, and I’m glad I found Baker,” Wermelskirchen said. “They instilled passions in me I didn’t know I had and pushed me to succeed. It sounds silly, but I wonder what it’ll feel like when I’m done and I wonder what my next adventure will be after Baker.”