Megan Hoffman saw a need in her hometown K-12 school and decided she needed to help resolve it.
Hoffman graduates from University of Wisconsin-Stout on Saturday, Dec. 18, with a degree in family and consumer sciences education. She teaches the subject already at the Medicine Lake School in Medicine Lake, Mont., a position she was allowed to fill conditionally until she graduated from UW-Stout.
“We had a need in our school for a family and consumer sciences teacher to teach life skills,” said Hoffman, who was interviewed via video. “It was a program I didn’t want to see gone from my school.
“We are really rural. The school has 85 students. I needed to find an online program. I liked Stout was a smaller school. What clinched it was after I talked to Diane Klemme, the program director, before I even applied. I liked her. She was really warm. I knew if the college employed people like her, it was the right fit.”
Commencement will take on even more special meaning to Hoffman, of Brockton, Mont., because the 770-mile trip to Menomonie with her family will be her first time on campus.
“I get finally to meet everyone,” Hoffman said, smiling.
Online program provided flexibility
Working full time and volunteering in her community as a paramedic, Hoffman, who started at UW-Stout in 2019, found the flexibility of the online program fit her schedule. She could work on classes when she had time, including evenings and weekends.
Hoffman first became an emergency medical technician in her early 20s and then a paramedic in her mid-20s, following in the footsteps of her father who was a physician and her mother who was a nurse.
“I used to go on rounds with my dad,” Hoffman recalled, noting she grew up in Ohio. “I just love medicine. My favorite part is the social work aspect of it helping people who might need to set their home up safer or need food in their refrigerator. I like making things better for people.”
That interest made an easy transition to teaching. Hoffman first started as a paraeducator in the Medicine Lake School and then decided to become a teacher. UW-Stout accepted 36 transfer credits from Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, where Hoffman started college in her 20s.
Moment of closure, celebration
Hoffman partially wanted to finish her degree for her son, Finn, age 10.
“I wanted my son to see women can do this and continue to better themselves,” Hoffman said. “I wanted him to see Mom working hard and that sacrifices pay off. I barely graduated high school. I was so unmotivated.”
Hoffman is graduating with a near 3.5 grade point average. “I’m proud of that,” she said. “I didn’t just get by. It was important to me to do as well as I could for myself, my students and my kid.”
Finn will join his mom at commencement as will her mom, dad and step-mother. Her husband, Jeremy, will stay in Montana to care for the family dairy farm.
Hoffman said she knows she will cry at graduation. “I have never graduated from college,” she said. “I could have watched the ceremony on YouTube, but I knew I was going to go to campus. It’s important to me. It’s a moment of closure and to celebrate with other people.”
Professor Klemme, who is also the teaching, learning and leadership department co-chair, is looking forward to meeting Hoffman on commencement day, if not before.
“She has been just a delightful person to work with,” Klemme said. “She is very committed to her community, to family and consumer sciences education and to her school.”
Hoffman represents what the customized instruction program was designed to do, develop more family and consumer sciences education teachers, Klemme said.
“It was designed out of need because we saw a shortage,” Klemme said. “The shortage hasn’t lessened. It provides that flexibility piece students need as they are gaining experience teaching.”
Others thinking about returning to college should seriously consider it, Hoffman said.
“I went full-time year-round. I took four to five classes a semester while being a wife, mom, volunteer paramedic and working full time, and I could do it. Being an online student, you have amazing flexibility, and you can even take one class and just dip your toe in. I just dove in. My one suggestion is to weigh your classes and take a lighter load if you have harder classes. I am not Wonder Woman. I love to sleep. It is definitely doable.”
Hoffman hopes others will take advantage of the online degree program at UW-Stout.
“I had the best experience at Stout. People were so warm and accepting. Professors were available to help. I felt I got such a great education. I never thought I was missing anything.”