40 years after starting college, psychology student finally graduates

Christine Lyons (left) talks with Starbucks store managers Talia Serefiddin and Patrick Tucker. Lyons is a district manager for Starbucks in the San Francisco area. (Photo courtesy of Christine Lyons)

It’s never too late to graduate.

That was the experience of Christine Lyons, who started at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the 1970s and finally graduated in May 2018.

She had started working on her psychology degree at UWM and was pretty much finished when she dropped out of school in 1979 to take care of her father, who was ailing. Then, life happened. She got married, moved to California and took a job where the degree wasn’t absolutely essential.

“I sort of put it on the back burner for 20 years. It was just unfinished business,” said Lyons, who is now approaching 60.

Meanwhile, she has built a successful career at Starbucks, working as a district manager in the San Francisco area. Then, two things happened that led her back to UWM to finish that psychology degree she’d started so long ago.

‘Why didn’t you?’

The College of Letters and Science at UWM began reaching out to students like Lyons who were just a few credits short of a degree, offering to help them find a way to finish up.

Christine Lyons stands with her daughter, Elizabeth, who helped inspire Lyons to complete her degree. Photo courtesy of Christine Lyons.

And Lyons’ daughter was in college. As Lyons encouraged her to stick with her education and finish up, her daughter asked, “Why didn’t you?”

So, working with Deanna Alba, assistant dean of Letters & Science, and others in the college, Lyons was able to figure out what she needed to do to finish, though it took almost a year to get everything in order. Community college classes Lyons had taken in California were counted toward her requirements, and she ended up needing only one more psychology course to finish her degree – a class that was offered online. And she received a scholarship to help cover the cost.

“I was so impressed with all that UWM was able to do for me,” said Lyons. “To make it possible for me to graduate after all this time is really pretty remarkable.”

Lyons’ journey isn’t unique, Alba said.

“Individuals can get detoured from their college journey for any number of reasons,” said Alba. “After some years pass, many are not aware of how close they really are\ to a degree. Or, they may not know about financial aid options and flexible formats such as online classes that can help them achieve their goal.”

The College of Letters & Science routinely contacts former students to inform them of their options and offer support to get back on the path to a degree.

“Our goal is to turn deferred dreams into concrete and achievable action plans,” Alba said. “I couldn’t be happier for Christine – she got to graduation because of her motivation to jump on this opportunity and because of her own hard work in the classroom.”

Challenge met

Lyons did well in the 600-level lab class and has enjoyed getting back into academic work again. “The class reminded me why I started taking psychology in the first place and how much I enjoyed the academic environment and the field of research psychology in particular,” she said.

The coursework was challenging and the standards were high, but Lyons put forth her best effort.

“I will say that being older and balancing work/family has its advantages — namely well-developed planning skills and staying ahead rather than getting behind!” she wrote to Alba.

What she’s learned in completing her psychology degree has helped her career, and she’s encouraging those she works with to continue their own education. She manages employees who are in their teens and early 20s, and learning in class about what drives their behavior gives her new insights.

“I manage people, and I’m using my knowledge every day,” she said.

By Kathy Quirk, University Relations