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Few would argue the notion that, when it comes to career successes, John Wheeler is doing quite well for himself.
After all, he’s worked at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic for 30 years and been a supervisor of respiratory care there for 22 years. That’s right, Mayo Clinic, possibly the most respected medical care and research institution in the world.
But a nagging, yet no less nightmarish image began creeping into the back of Wheeler’s mind more and more in recent years, and he wanted to do everything in his power to keep it from becoming reality.
So what had him so uneasy?
“Well, I told myself that even if I didn’t change my situation, I had still done pretty good for myself. I said, ‘Man, I’m doing alright,” Wheeler explained. “But I got an associate’s degree in respiratory care in the 1970s, and at some point I’m going to be the ‘old guy’ around here. I could just see these young people circling the wagons and saying, ‘This guy doesn’t even have a four-year degree.’ It was a motivating image, believe me.”
That was back in 1999, when the University of Minnesota, Crookston’s online applied health program was in its infancy. One of Wheeler’s colleagues at Mayo was in the UMC program and, after chatting about it, Wheeler said it seemed like a good fit for him, too.
“I’d thought about advancing my education for years, but I put it off when my kids were small,” he said.
At one point, he enrolled in an evening class at a university near his home.
“I did well, but I just disdained the idea of working all day and then sitting for four hours in a classroom all evening long, coming home late and getting up for work the next morning. It was hell and I was beat,” Wheeler recalled. “I’ve always been active and loved the outdoors, and spending hours and hours in a classroom just wasn’t for me.”
Through various “supervisor roundtable discussions” at Mayo that “suggested” the importance of advancing careers by earning four-year degrees, Wheeler said the writing was on the wall.
“I’d outgrown my education,” he said. “I called UMC, figuring I had nothing to lose by trying a class online.”
That was the fall of 1999. This past May, Wheeler, 51 and the father of two grown children, earned his bachelor of applied health degree from UMC. The fact that it took him almost six years is no accident.
“I took one class at a time except for one time that I doubled up, and until my final year I never took any summer classes,” he explained.
His deliberate approach left enough time in his life to juggle his “management workload” at Mayo and his numerous other hobbies, which include hunting and playing in a rock band.
At his age, Wheeler realizes that he doesn’t have a lot of years left, career-wise, to expand his horizons. But earning a four-year degree, in addition to putting his haunting image to rest, has done a great deal for him.
“For one thing, I’m a much better writer,” he said. “I actually enjoy writing a little now, something I would never have said before.”
He’s applied for some other positions, in addition to counseling the 48 people under his supervision on the importance of earning a four-year college degree.
“I’m telling them to do it before they’re as old as me,” Wheeler said. “And I’m really pushing the online component, because these people are as busy as I am.”
Good experience, advice
Except for a lone B+, Wheeler earned all A’s in his UMC online courses. While he’s not going to pretend everything went perfectly or that the classes were a piece of cake, he has high praise for UMC’s BAH online program.
“I speak very highly of the program; it should be the pride and joy of the university,” he said. “As far as giving me the potential to change some direction in the years before I retire, I couldn’t have asked for anything more in a program. Even if I stay right where I’m at, it’s still good.”
Wheeler describes Dr. David Seyfried, program director, as a “great person and a great counselor.
“David wrote me a wonderful letter of recommendation,” he said. “I’d like to give him some advice now and tell him to get a master’s degree program online, because there are a number of people looking for that.”
In addition to urging others to consider the benefits on online learning, Wheeler finds himself offering more specific advice as well. His most valuable tip?
“Don’t procrastinate. Do not procrastinate,” he said. “Online learning takes a little more self-motivation, a little more self-direction. If you don’t have those two things, you’d better get them. But if you’re motivated, reasonably organized and you’re looking to improve yourself in a variety of ways, you will do well in this program.”
Wheeler said he took advantage of every opportunity possible to work ahead. If it was raining outside, he’d spend some time at his computer. If an assignment was due on Sunday, he’d try to have it wrapped up a week in advance. That way, if something unexpected popped up on his schedule at work or at home, he had some leeway.
Working at Mayo, Wheeler said it was impossible not to have a functional knowledge of computers. Therefore, he was never intimidated by UMC’s online program. His access to Mayo’s server helped a great deal, too.
“I kept everything for a later resource,” he said, “and I could access whatever I needed from home, work, or while I was traveling.”
Although, to some, being an online student might seem like an isolating experience, Wheeler said that wasn’t the case.
“A number of us were together in the classes most of the way through, and it was nice to log in and see a familiar name was logged on, too,” he recalled. “When people started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, they’d post excited messages saying they were almost done. It got me psyched up.”
Now that he’s finished, Wheeler can focus on advancing his career, but not be stressed out if he doesn’t. He can also devote the spare time necessary to his rock band, and hunting.
“I can’t wait to go pheasant hunting,” he said. “It will be nice to not have to worry about homework waiting for me at home.”
For more information on the Bachelor of Applied Health log on to: www.umcrookston.edu/cal or (800) 862 6466 ext 8679
* Wheeler is a 2005 graduate of UMC.