Married couples tackle college degrees together at GGC

Opportunity and competitive spirit drive three married couples in pursuit of degrees

Georgia Gwinnett College is known for adapting to today’s college students, whether traditional or non-traditional. With different learning styles, work schedules and life’s sometimes demanding roles, a flexible learning environment is critical to a student’s academic success. Meet three married couples who are reaping the rewards and managing the challenges of pursuing a degree at GGC.

Empty nesters move from competition to team effort

Lynne and Ken Klemm

When Lynne, 51, and Ken Klemm, 46, of Snellville went through GGC orientation in 2008, fellow students and faculty mistook them for parents. 

“All day long we received inquisitive glances from others as we went through the tours,” said Ken. “Little did they know that we were actually students.”
 
After their son graduated from Emory University with a degree in economics and entered Emory Law School, Lynne decided it was time to obtain a college degree and took Ken, “along for the ride.” In their youth, Lynne attended a semester of community college and enjoyed a career as a data processing technician in multiple organizations including Gwinnett County government. Ken graduated from high school and worked for many years in data centers and information technology. Both had served in the military.
 
 “I had no thought of getting a college degree, but found that the way for me to deal with my spouse returning to school was to join her,” Ken said. “Initially, I did not gain admission to GGC due to my high school academic record, but Lynne wrote a letter to GGC asking for reconsideration and insisted that I edit and mail it.”  In May 2008, Ken received his acceptance letter from GGC and has never looked back. 

The Klemms are both majoring in information technology with a concentration in enterprise systems and plan to graduate in May 2014. Lynn has a 3.88 grade point average and Ken has a 3.65. Part of their success has been that they have supported and encouraged one another. Because they have the same major, they attended almost all of their classes together so that if one missed a class, they were always covered. 
 
“At first, it was a bit of a competition to see who could make the best grades, but after a while, it became much more of a team effort,” Lynne said. “We have different strengths and learning styles and we use that to our advantage, always keeping in mind the end goal of graduation.” 
 
Although the Klemms admit that at times it’s been odd to be older than some of their professors, they credit the faculty with understanding and mentoring non-traditional students.  Both agree that their professors helped them gain greater confidence and were a source of deep inspiration.
 
“The professors who teach at night and on weekends realize that their students are different than those who attend during the day,” Lynne said. “They know we have just worked eight hours before having to sit in class for another three before going home and doing homework.”
 
For those considering getting a degree later in life, Lynne advises stepping out of your comfort zone, turning off the TV, and applying to college. 

“Life is full of challenges and not having a degree is one challenge you can eliminate,” she said. “It might take a few years, but it will pay off.”

Coming to America via Green Card Lottery

Kim and John Querl

Some would say that Kim, 54, and John Querl, 55, of Lilburn traveled far and wide to study together at Georgia Gwinnett College. Originally from Africa, they met in high school and have been married for more than 30 years.

They’ve since lived in numerous countries and in 1994 were presented with a life-changing opportunity: “the Green Card Lottery.” As residents of Zimbabwe, they won three tickets and moved, along with their son, to the metro Atlanta area. Since then, they try to seize every opportunity that comes their way.

“GGC is one of the opportunities and possibly the one that will give us the greatest chance to progress, John said. “There is always risk involved, but unless you take the risk, you will never know what you missed.”

According to Kim, the opportunity for higher education was not available to them in Zambia and Zimbabwe so when they settled in the U.S., they realized that the job market demanded formal qualifications to back up the years of work experience they both had.

Within several years, Kim earned an associates degree at a local technical college and continued her career with a large paper and packaging company. John pursued his career in accounting that stemmed from a degree earned in Zimbabwe, along with his work experience that spanned industries such as mining, engineering, agriculture and retail.

“Making the decision to return to college at GGC was really a no-brainer,” John said. “The quality of the faculty is second to none, and we sincerely believe that GGC is providing an education level that can only be described as phenomenal.”

Kim, a business major and John, accounting, typically take classes separately, but have also taken several classes together.  They experience a more competitive spirit when taking classes together, and find that benefits them.

“Kim has strengths that I am able to draw on when I need help and vice-versa,” John said. “The courses that we took together always ended in great success, and we pose a formidable front when participating in group projects.”

The couple has been able to balance work, school and home by sharing chores and offering encouragement when needed.
“It’s often a long journey but worth it,” John said. “I tell others thinking of seeking a degree to never let age be a question. We are proof that age and togetherness can’t be beaten.”

Kim and John plan to graduate late 2013 and 2014, respectively, and both plan to pursue a master’s degree while applying their education to their careers.

Balancing books and a baby

Zahra and Momin Ali

Zahra, 19, and Momin Ali, 21, of Lawrenceville are quite busy these days trying to meet the demands of busy lives that now include an infant, a full-time college schedule and maintaining a home and marriage.

“It is possible to do it all as long as you manage your time, help each other out, and most importantly, motivate each other,” said Momin. “Since we go to school together, and sometimes even take classes together, it offers a great support system and helps us stay focused.”
Before beginning classes at Georgia Gwinnett College, the couple worked at various jobs – Zahra tutoring children and Momin working in the U.S Military, as well as starting his own taxi and limousine service.

But knowing that they would eventually be parents, the couple decided to enroll in a program at GGC to become better citizens of the world and create a better life for their family. Zahra said GGC was their first choice due to the interactive learning, small classes and strong student-professor relationships.

“As students, the professors have built strong one-on-one relationships with us where we can discuss broader concepts apart from those learned in class,” Momin said. “They understand the difficulties we face each day as young parents and students, thus they are helpful and flexible with us.”

Along the way there have been obstacles, but the two agree that the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

“After our daughter was born, we decided to ‘test the waters’ and take a summer class together,” said Zahra. “We found it to be helpful in that we not only saved money on gas and books, but have motivated one another as well, and a side benefit was that we always had a lab partner.”

Zahra plans to graduate in 2016 with a double major in mathematics and biology with a concentration in cell biology and biotechnology. Momin should graduate in 2014 with a double major in criminal justice and in biology, also with a concentration in cell biology and biotechnology. Both plan to continue their education in medical school and become doctors or medical researchers.

“GGC is quite fortunate to have these couples serving as role models who are succeeding both inside and outside the classroom – on campus, at home, at work and in the community. They are proof that you can balance it all if you are willing to put forth the necessary effort,” said Dr. Douglas Johnson, associate professor of management, who taught two of these three couples in the same Honors course this summer. "Once they got into their classes, they found they were capable of doing this and far more. For married students, like all students, the sky’s the limit.”

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