After several attempts, Melissa Jahnke has found her niche. Her journey has come full circle, as the soon-to-be 41-year-old has returned to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Wausau to pursue her academic and career dreams.

From Appleton, she first attended the Wausau campus, then known as UW-Marathon County, from 1998-1999 before transferring to Northcentral Technical College in hopes of finding the right vocational fit.

“I dropped out of college in 2000 with too many of life’s obstacles, such as starting a family, purchasing a home and pursuing a full-time career, preventing me from pursuing my dreams of college graduation,” Jahnke said.

Seven years later, while working as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service in Merrill, with aspirations to move into upper management, she gave college another try, enrolling in a private college’s Master of Business Administration program.

“I was working 50-plus hours a week and soon realized there was no way I could physically dedicate myself to schoolwork,” said Jahnke, who is married with a biological daughter and four stepchildren.

A first-generation college student, Jahnke said her father’s unexpected death in 2015 motivated her to give college a final try.

“Part of my decision to leave my 10-year career with the Postal Service was losing my dad. I realized life is too short to settle for something that doesn’t light you up inside.

“I am grateful for parents who taught me the importance of hard work and chasing dreams,” Jahnke said. Her father was a licensed millwright and her entrepreneurial mother built and runs a large commercial janitorial contracting company.

Since re-enrolling at UW-Stevens Point at Wausau in fall 2018, Jahnke has been sprinting to achieve her educational goals, taking 15 to 19 credits a semester. Last December, she completed her associate degree.

“I set a goal to graduate from college by my 40th birthday,” she said. “It felt wonderful walking across the stage to accept my degree.”

She now has her sights set on a earning a bachelor’s degree in social work.

“I was thrilled when UW-Stevens Point decided to offer the social work major at the Wausau campus. It was a big selling point,” said Jahnke, who also runs a sewing business out of her Merrill home.

“Melissa brings such a bright presence on our campus,” said Miranda Gentry-Siegel, Jahnke’s academic adviser. “She stepped into student leadership roles from the very beginning of her time at UW-Stevens Point at Wausau, serving as a mentor and inspiration for fellow students. I am so proud of all she’s achieved since coming back to school.”

Jahnke credits her husband and children for backing her during her educational journey.

“My family has made sacrifices and budget accommodations to see me through these short years of college. I don’t know if I could have returned to college without their continuous encouragement and support,” said Jahnke, who plans to be a school or hospice care social worker. “Having this degree will be the best for our family. UWSP has helped me find my purpose, and who knows where that will take me?”

Source: UW-Stevens Point at Wausau