Penn State adult learner beats the odds and completes degree online

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When Nicole Jankowski was in high school, she was a typical teenager; a good student, carefree, loved playing sports and spending time with her friends. Her world changed during her senior year when she gave birth to a son, but her dream of attending college still remained a top priority.

Her odds of ever earning a college degree were slim, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which reports less than 2 percent of teen mothers complete a degree by age 30. But Jankowski kept up with schoolwork, studied at home and graduated high school on time with the rest of her class. As soon as Jankowski graduated, she started her college education at Penn State Berks and then enrolled at Penn State's World Campus. Now 27 and married with two children, she will graduate with a bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership on Aug. 13, during her commencement ceremony on the University Park campus.

"My mom told me 'Use your situation as a reason to better yourself, not as an excuse not to be ambitious,'" said Jankowski, who followed that advice. "I knew I couldn't let anything hold me back. My goal of a college education was no longer just for me, but now I needed to succeed for my son, too."

Throughout high school and her Penn State career at the Berks campus and online at the World Campus, Jankowski worked part time jobs to support herself and her son. It wasn't until she got a full-time job in the human resources department at Reading Hospital and Medical Center that she had truly found her calling.

Jankowski wasn't sure at first what she wanted to major in and took a wide variety of courses. When class schedules conflicted with her work schedule and caring for her son, she talked with a faculty member who told her about online degrees. She switched her major to the College of the Liberal Arts' bachelor of science in organizational leadership. "The flexibility of online courses was great. I would not be where I am today without the World Campus program."

While a student, Jankowski earned certification as a Professional in Human Resources by completing an exam from the HR Certification Institute, an internationally recognized certifying organization for the human resource profession. In 2008, she married Andy Jankowski, "the love of my life." Her son Gavin, 9, now has a sister Lilly, 2.

Jankowski joined Godiva Chocolatier Inc. in Reading last summer. She administers all North American benefit and 401k programs and compensation for Godiva and is excited about the next steps in her career and moving up within the company.

Penn State World Campus specializes in adult online education, delivering more than 70 of Penn State's most highly regarded graduate, undergraduate and professional education programs through convenient online formats. Founded in 1998, Penn State World Campus is the University's 25th campus serving more than 8,500 students in all 50 states and around the world. World Campus is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated August 24, 2011