"It's never too late to go back."
That's what 56-year-old Nick Pykus says when he talks about getting ready to graduate from Kent State University on Saturday, a goal Pykus is achieving after more than 30 years.
Pykus grew up in Ashtabula and attended Ashtabula High School, graduating in 1978. He started attending KSU's Ashtabula branch the same year, but various events happened along the way that put his college career on hold.
"I started out in laboratory medicine in 1978 and in my second year, I was attending the school at the main campus," Pykus said. "In 1982, when I was a senior, my mother became ill with really bad allergies and she couldn't breathe."
Pykus ended up dropping out to help with the family, planning to finish up his bachelor's degree in medical laboratory technology in the fall of that year.
"When I left KSU, I went back the next fall and I was told I failed all of my courses," Pykus said. "I thought I received 'incompletes' for those courses, but apparently not. Apparently, I had to fill out paperwork but I never knew that and never did, so it really set me behind on my GPA and I had to re-take courses."
In the spring of 1983, Pykus ended up getting married, and started a family soon after.
"My wife was at college and I thought I would just wait for her to finish her degree and I will go back," Pykus said. "I kept saying I would go back."
Pykus was eventually told he would have to re-take all his chemistry and biology classes because they were outdated. He was told he would be best off receiving a bachelor's degree in general studies.
"There were no online courses back then when I was going to school, trying to complete my degree," Pykus said. "I had a family and a job and I couldn't go to class certain days because of it."
Pykus works in the Information Technology department as a senior computer analyst for University Hospitals.
INTEGRATIVE STUDIES PROGRAM
In 2008, Pykus started to notice more online courses being offered by KSU. He was able to take some course towards his degree, both by online and night class. In 2012, he wrote a letter to KSU explaining that there needed to be a program for students trying to go back and complete their degree, or attend school even with a full-time job. It turned out that his wish was already in the works.
"I ended up getting a call from an adviser saying KSU had started a program called Integrative Studies," Pykus said. "It's geared for people wanting to go back to school and finish their degree. Most of the classes are online. I pushed to get into that program and was accepted."
David O'Dell-Scott, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is the director of the Bachelor of Integrative Studies program at KSU.
"We wanted to build a program based on two minors and doing some additional work, such as a senior project" O'Dell-Scott said. "A lot of the students who are in this program have been in school at Kent, but haven't been able to finish their degree. We can't let a good student and a capable person falter simply because of life being disrupted."
O'Dell-Scott said there are 320 students in the program. All courses are geared towards benefitting students in the specific career field they are in or want to be a part of. Many of the courses are online, allowing for easy accessibility and a flexible schedule for students like Pykus.
Pykus said the courses he took brought him up to speed with technology and today's sciences.
"I took a course called 'information fluency' and that taught me how to do appropriate research," Pykus said. "It was a great tool to write research papers. I needed to know more about technology and learning. I was able to now compete with graduates and really brought me up to speed at my job."
"I was able to compete and get ahead in a lot of areas," Pykus said. "I knew more about spreadsheets and Google Docs and actually ended up with a 4.0 GPA. I've worked as a lab tech for 20 years and then I became a manager in the IT and I needed more information, management and communication courses, which is exactly what Integrative Studies does. It helped me advance my career. The program helps make you a leader in your field."
"I wanted to be an inspiration for my children and other kids going to school to not give up," Pykus said. "You got to keep going, especially in today's educational system. It's very important to complete the degree and not give up."
Pykus also said technology is changing fast and in order to compete, one has to stay ahead.
"People have a degree from 30 years ago, and they are almost obsolete now," Pykus said. "Plus, the courses I took were super interesting. It was really an eye-opening experience. At my age, there were times I really didn't think I would ever complete my degree but then I found this program. My 91-year-old mother always wanted to go to college but she never had a chance. She swore to herself her kids would finish. My brother and sister have completed their degrees and now it's my turn. My mother will be there to see it. This kind of completes it for her."
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