World Campus student overcomes surgeries, long hours on path to better future

A year into his business management and marketing studies at Penn State World Campus, Steven Wagner was diagnosed with severe bilateral hip dysplasia and told he would need two rounds of surgery.

“I was playing basketball one day and my hip went out of joint,” said Wagner, who lives in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. “I could barely move and my leg started going numb.”

Both surgeries were scheduled while Wagner was enrolled in classes. “I did homework up until my surgery, and when I woke up I kept doing homework,” he said. “I was strapped to a machine that moved my leg up and down. I did homework while my leg was going up and down.”

Wagner made one of his first presentations to a professor from bed in his hospital gown. “I think I threw on a shirt,” he said.

Wagner will graduate this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in business and a 3.15 grade-point average, making his first trip to the University Park campus with his wife and 13-year-old son to attend graduation ceremonies. His inspirational story led to him being chosen as a student speaker for Friday’s World Campus graduation celebration.

Wagner said his GPA for his first year at Penn State, before the surgeries, was about 2.85 as he adjusted to the challenges of an online program. Since the surgeries, it has never been lower than 3.5, he said. “When I found out about the surgeries it kind of laser focused me,” Wagner said.

World Campus grad Steven Wagner outside the factory where he works

Steven Wagner outside the Wisconsin factory where he worked full time while pursuing his business degree through Penn State World Campus.

Image: Michael McLoone

Wagner, who works as a saw operator at a Provisur Technologies factory that makes food processing equipment, started with Penn State World Campus in 2013. Going to school online has allowed him to combine his degree work with a full-time job and family responsibilities. This past semester, he wound up working 14-hour days to complete his regular work hours and an internship in which he developed a new raw materials inventory system for the factory.

“I would come home, study for two hours, sleep for four or five hours, and then do it again,” he said. “My family has been very patient with me.”

Wagner said the thought that he was working toward a better future kept him going. “I just really didn’t want to work in a factory all my life,” he said.

After graduating, Wagner hopes to get a job in sports analytics or factory management and plans to pursue a master’s degree in business analytics through World Campus.

Beyond catching up on sleep and getting back to the gym, Wagner said he doesn’t know yet what he’ll do with his extra time now that classes are finished.

“I’m going to enjoy it,” he said. “That’s for sure.”

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about online learning.

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Last Updated December 14, 2016