Non-Traditional Student Nets Award

Joel DesArmo doesn’t feel any different than other students. Sure, he may have taken a break from college life for ten years, but that doesn’t bother DesArmo. Unfazed by the labels like “returning” or “non-traditional student,” DesArmo believes that in a UWM classroom, he’s the same as anyone else.

The Office of Adult and Returning Student Services (OARSS) thinks he’s special. In fact, they have a label for DesArmo: “exceptional.”

In November 2009, DesArmo was the recipient of OARSS’ certificate of recognition for the School of Information Studies (SOIS). DesArmo was pleased by the award. “It’s an affirmation of the hard work I’ve done,” he said. He’s modest about it, but DesArmo’s story is the stuff of inspiration.

Returning to school in the fall of 2007, DesArmo says that it felt like the right time to back into school. Having attended UWM in the past, he had originally decided that university life just wasn’t for him. He took a position as a school bus driver and worked in other jobs along the way. He says he loved the personal relationships that he created with students and parents while driving the bus, but eventually decided that it was time to go back to school for himself.

As inspiring as his return to the university was, DesArmo’s decision to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Information Resources (BSIR) is even more invigorating. In the spring of 2008, he was still without a major. DesArmo reports that he was considering Management Information Systems (MIS) or possibly Education, given his background working with children. DesArmo knew he wanted something practical, but was also looking for something with theoretical underpinnings. “I knew someone in my Spanish class who was in MIS and I thought that sounded pretty good,” he said. A chance encounter with SOIS representative would change all of that.

One day during that same spring semester, DesArmo came across a SOIS recruiting booth on his way to class. It was there that he met Jennifer Hawkins, an undergraduate advisor and the person who would later nominate DesArmo for the OARSS award. “She asked me if I had a major and I told her that I didn’t,” he recounts, “when she told me about the BSIR, I said to myself, ‘That’s me, that’s what I want to do!’” And the rest is history.

DesArmo hasn’t just been active in his classes either. As a member of the undergraduate student organization, a participant in the Table Tennis Club, and the Student Association representative for SOIS, DesArmo keeps himself busy around campus. He is also proud of his involvement with the American Indian Student Services (AISS) Office on campus.

For her part, Hawkins appreciates the effort DesArmo has put into both his studies and his extra-curricular activities. “We have a lot of great students and a lot of great non-traditional students,” she professed, “Joel won this award because he’s been such an exemplary figure around the school.”

In the future, DesArmo hopes to open his own business some day, possibly a tech services firm. He says that a few of his hobbies include playing around in Photoshop and creating websites, skills which he thinks could translate positively in an entrepreneurial or non-profit scenario.

For now, however, DesArmo is okay with the label that he has: “student.”

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