Mary Dantzler (BA, 2016), a current graduate student in the Department of Communication, has had nothing short of an interesting academic journey at UW-Milwaukee. Mary completed her undergraduate degree this past summer, and it was definitely a long time coming!
Ever since Mary was 9 years old, she knew she would one day want to attend UWM. Many of her family members had, and she wanted to follow in their footsteps and continue the tradition. This was not the only factor that played into her choice, though. She was extremely impressed with UWM’s Communication program and she was attracted to the amazing faculty and staff.
Communication was not always Mary’s choice in majors; she originally planned to study psychology and writing, but then made the switch as she started taking communication-focused courses. Mary stated, “I found my interests in human behavior peaked while in Communication courses. I was drawn to the study of interpersonal communication and fascinated with human interaction and the art of connecting.” From there on, Mary never looked back and knew that communication was undoubtedly her passion.
One thing that is so special about Mary is her drive and motivation to get her degree, despite many bumps in the road. She has definitely not had the most stress-free experience, and she noted that academic journey was very “nontraditional.” After graduating high school, Mary was married with a family and was working a full-time job. She said, “I watched students who started years after me graduate years before me. The finish line always seemed far in the distance, yet I reminded myself that I could still see it.” It was not until age 34, in 2001, that Mary started to pursue her college dream. She originally attended UW-Sheboygan, and graduated with her associate degree in 2008.
After completing her associate, she made her way to UWM that fall to work on her Bachelor of Arts degree. But after two years, another obstacle arose and she decided to take a five-year break from school so she could focus on raising her two granddaughters. By 2015, Mary was back on campus pursuing her bachelor’s degree. Her goal was to graduate in Spring 2016 and she was determined to make this happen. Unfortunately, yet another one of life’s obstacles was thrown in Mary’s path, when her grandmother took a hard fall in August of 2015.
Mary assumed the duties involved in transitioning her grandmother from her house to an assisted living facility. With much of her time dedicated to demanding family matters, Mary had to change her semester plans, but she wanted to stay on track and make sure that she completed her degree — if not that spring, then definitely in summer, and that is what she did! Mary moved her classes around; took one Fall course, signed up for a Winterim course, and attended three Spring and four Summer classes. Mary’s passion for higher education allowed her to persevere and finally earn her undergraduate degree. In fact, she excelled — she graduated with commencement honors and honors in her major.
Mary made a comment that really stood out: “After 15 years you realize, ‘life’ is always going to come up. You can count on distractions, diversions, obstacles, and hurdles — they’re inevitable. I don’t know that there’s ever a ‘perfect’ or flawless time to go to college, as ‘life’ and all of its challenges continues, regardless of our plan. We can’t control what comes our way. I spent one day writing case study analyses for a class the same day I wrote an obituary and eulogy for a family member. Life continues and there is no pause button.” If there is one thing to take away from Mary’s experience with getting her undergraduate degree, it’s that life is always going to be hard, but if you push through and never lose sight of your goals, you can be successful.
Post-graduation, Mary knew that she wanted to continue working on her passion for communication in graduate school. She briefly considered other schools, but her search quickly ended when UWM’s recent rating as a Tier 1 Research Institution from the Carnegie Classification was released. “UWM’s Communication M.A. program is top notch,” she stated. After deciding to stay at UWM, she still had her reservations about going directly into graduate school, having just graduated. She wondered if she had enough preparation and if she would be successful. Dr. Erin Parcell played a vital role in Mary’s decision to go on. “After conversations with and encouragement from Dr. Parcell, I gained the confidence I needed to move forward toward the next step of my academic career. Dr. Parcell is an incredible mentor, who is encouraging and motivating. Her profound passion for educating and developing students is inspirational. She taught the Communication and Human Conflict Winterim course I took in January and is now my interim advisor in the Communication Master’s program.” I think it is safe to say that Mary made the right choice, and is settling in nicely as she pursues her graduate degree here at UWM.
Mary currently lives in Oostburg, WI and commutes to UWM. In addition to her graduate studies, she works at Sargento Foods in Plymouth WI, where she was hired three years ago. Mary’s position requires her to coordinate leadership and sales meetings, along with providing administrative support to the President of Food Service and Food Ingredients: “I have used my communication skills in my position to interview, train, create presentations, and write speeches, skits, taglines, and articles.”
In her past, Mary has also worked for several Wisconsin newspapers. She started her own small writing and editing business five years ago, called Expressed Write Communications, LLC. In addition, she has worked as an executive assistant to the CEO, President, and Chairman of the Board of a global corporation. She also created an after-school writing program for students at a Milwaukee charter school, and is a former member and Vice President of Public Relations for Sheboygan Toastmasters International.
Let Mary be an inspiration to you; knowing that no matter what life throws at you, you can work to overcome it — never let it get in the way of your dreams. The Department of Communication is proud to have Mary Dantzler as an Alumna!
By McKenna Skerhutt