July 28, 2010
Non-traditional student earns degree, builds on college experience
MARYVILLE, Mo. - When Clifton Wilson returned to school as a non-traditional student at Northwest Missouri State in 2005, the Mound City native didn't just take classes, he embraced the undergraduate experience at the University.
Wilson is one of 274 students who will graduate during Northwest's summer commencement ceremony Thursday night. Northwest will award 138 bachelor's degrees and 119 master's degrees and 17 education specialist certificates.
Wilson, 54, will graduate, having completed a double major in finance and business management with a minor in economic development.
"To be honest, it's the hardest thing I've ever taken on," he said. "It was difficult getting back into good study habits, which is key for college."
Wilson graduated from Mound City R-II High School in 1973. He took some college classes, before deciding to work at a family business. Eventually, he became a warehouse manager and worked his way into sales management.
But Wilson was a victim of corporate downsizing in 2002. For the next two years he worked temporary jobs and sent close to 1,000 resumes.
After landing just four interviews, and finding that most of the jobs for which he was applying required a college degree, Wilson knew he had to return to school.
"I saw the opportunity to do it and it had always been a goal of mine," he said.
In 2005, he enrolled at Northwest and started with a couple classes in each of his first two trimesters. After getting accustomed to a college course schedule, he enrolled full-time and could be found studying regularly in the Owens Library.
He joined the Financial Management Association (FMA), serving as president for three years. He joined Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), serving as historian for one year, president for two years. He served on the University's recycling committee and worked in the Office of University Relations. He regularly attended athletic events and cheered on the Bearcats.
This past year, as a student advisor for SIFE, Wilson helped the team win its regional championship and qualify for national competition in Minneapolis. Dr. Jason White, associate professor of economics and SIFE Sam Walton Fellow, called Wilson a backbone of the SIFE team.
"Cliff is a great example of someone who has many priorities yet he finds a way to get it all done," White said. "His story, like so many before, can only happen because of the people who work here, raise families here, and allow students to have a home away from home."
Wilson also worked with a group in Mound City to raise money for a new all-weather track. He and his son Samuel have helped build two houses in Maryville for Habitat for Humanity.
"A lot of what I have learned I was already doing in a way, but I didn't realize I was doing it," Wilson said, noting his experience researching new products and budgeting. "But if I was going to go back into sales management, I would be much more prepared to handle other obstacles that I was not prepared to handle before my education."
In some courses, instructors used Wilson's experiences to help other students understand real world concepts. Additionally, Wilson has inspired his son, who is entering high school, to continue his education.
"Because of me coming to college, he's realized the importance of education beyond high school to open up many doors in the career world," Wilson said.
Wilson said one of the keys to his success was getting involved at Northwest and instructs incoming students to do the same.
"Consider involvement in some type of organization, whether it be a fraternity or sorority, SIFE, American Marketing Association," Wilson said. "That helps you build as a student."
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