In her first semester at the University of Wisconsin, Gretchen Erdmann-Hermans enrolled in Chemistry 109.

Once a week, Erdmann-Hermans and her two children would ride the bus in the evening to the chemistry building to attend tutoring hosted by a Greek organization. While her kids played with legos and colored pencils, Erdmann-Hermans got help on homework. 

Erdmann-Hermans is an adult student at UW, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in geology. She is one of two recipients of the Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Award, which recognizes adult students for their hard work and high academic achievement.

Before transferring to UW in 2015, Erdmann-Hermans spent about three years studying at Madison College and taking online language classes. She had previously studied adventure sports at a technical college in Maryland, business at Edgewood College and earned a culinary degree at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver.

One of the things that drove her to earn a bachelor’s degree, Erdmann-Hermans said, was the desire for “upward motion” in whatever field of work she wanted. She said she didn’t want to have a limit on how she could study or what jobs she could have.

“I don’t want to have a ceiling on my life,” Erdmann-Hermans said.

To achieve the independence she was looking for, Erdmann-Hermans said she has had to overcome many challenges. Balancing academics with personal and family life, she said, has not been easy and has demanded a lot of hard work.

Erdmann-Hermans also said UW isn’t the most accessible school for non-traditional students and is not “adult student friendly.”

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Because UW doesn’t have one central tutoring center, Erdmann-Hermans said it was sometimes difficult to get help in her classes at times that fit her family’s schedule as well as finding help outside of the classroom. Relying on office hours offered only once a week or having to search through tons of websites and services was challenging, she said.

“You’re up at 2 a.m. … trying to find an answer to a question because you have nobody to ask [for help],” Erdmann-Hermans said.

In addition, Erdmann-Hermans said she had to take extra plans and steps to commute to class because she lives in Middleton. Erdmann-Hermans balanced shuttling kids to school, substantial drives to UW and scheduling classes around her family.

As a mother, Erdmann-Hermans said balancing a degree and parenting was sometimes difficult. In addition to bringing her kids to tutoring for Chemistry 109, she said her kids came to campus with her during their spring breaks, days off of school and sick days, unless she could find someone to watch them. Erdmann-Hermans also has had to balance last minute deadlines during family time.

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Erdmann-Hermans said on a social level, being an adult student can be isolating.

“I don’t have peers, I know they exist but [there are] none in my major,” Erdmann-Hermans said.

Because undergraduates often connect through student organizations, going through majors and are often similar in age, Erdmann-Hermans said sometimes it can be difficult to make connections.

Nevertheless, Erdmann-Hermans said she is “very honored” to be recognized for her achievements as an adult student.

“Getting to college for me was a big step toward regaining my independence,” she said.