Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Returning students seek diploma

Saturday afternoon finds Edward Erwin studying at a community coffee shop. The 45-year-old takes a break from his work to discuss his involvement with Madisonians struggling with mental sickness.

“I spend most of my time … with people with mental illness,” he said.

Erwin, battling a mental illness himself, works as a dishwasher at the Yahara House, a clubhouse for Dane County residents recovering from psychiatric disability. While Erwin is not paid for this work, he does not see it as charity.


“I gain a lot from [the Yahara House],” he said. “It’s very necessary for me to go there.”

Erwin is also pursuing an undergraduate degree in social work through the University of Wisconsin’s Division of Continuing Studies (DCS); an opportunity he said has helped him contribute to Madison’s mentally ill community.

“I not only respect myself more … but [also] the people at Yahara House,” he said.

Erwin said he sees himself as “a pioneer,” believing that by succeeding at UW, he can tear down prejudices that people with mental illness face and pave the way for more mentally ill people to pursue higher education.

“I have a responsibility to keep our name good,” he said.

The DCS helps nontraditional students, like Erwin, pursue undergraduate degrees. Often these students have been away from school for many years. Associate Vice Chancellor Howard Martin noted several reasons why DCS is important at UW.

“The division is important because it’s an access point for [adult] students,” Martin said. “We deal with tens of thousands of students who are nontraditional students, but we also deal with those undergraduates who come back.”

Martin said the DCS is also vital to community members who are not students.

“We provide services in adult educational counseling and career counseling for the community,” he said.

Erwin pointed out he was out of school for a long time as a result of his illness.

Until returning in 2000, he had been out of school for over 15 years. While returning to school has been personally fulfilling to Erwin, he was quick to mention that the university experience improves relationships and strengthens community.

“It feels so good,” he said. “There’s a tremendous social aspect.”

Erwin is just one of the people who have found personal fulfillment and community building through DCS.

Like Erwin, Mary Kirkendoll made the decision to go back to school. She previously attended the university in 1976 but did not finish her degree.

From 1992-2003, Kirkendoll held a series of jobs, working to enrich schools and neighborhoods in Dane County. The 46-year-old mother of three was also an active volunteer, giving her time to over a dozen community organizations, holding leadership positions in a number of them.

In 1996 she worked with President Clinton to discuss families and children in the Madison area. A number of groups ranging from the Young Women’s Christian Association to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have recognized her efforts in the community.

Despite such active involvement in the community, Kirkendoll said she felt something was missing.

“It was a goal of mine to get my undergraduate degree,” she said.

Kirkendoll said she contacted DCS and found she could resume her studies at the university. She started as a part-time student in 2002 and became a full-time student the next year.

Kirkendoll is currently pursuing a degree in family and consumer education leadership.

Having about 25 more years of life experience than traditional undergraduates, Kirkendoll said she feels she is a valuable asset to the university community.

“I feel valued in what I do,” she said. “When I’m working with younger students, I’m learning along with them, but I’m sharing with them what I know.”

While Kirkendoll’s experiences in community service are set to enrich her education, she wants her education to strengthen her ability to serve communities.

“I really wanted to develop writing skills to really learn research methods [to study community problems],” she said.

Gaining these skills has enabled her to work with Northwestern University to develop a handbook for community development. She is especially looking for a way to revitalize black neighborhoods.

“There really hasn’t been a successful model,” Kirkendoll said.

She added she believes her experiences combined with education will help her to develop a model for successful community revitalization.

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