John Wen sits at his kitchen table working on his laptop while a small child eating snacks grabs onto the back of his chair

Meeting students where they are

In John Wen's case, it's the soccer field, laundry room, kitchen

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If John Wen had a superpower, it would be adaptability.

Wen is a husband and father of four children, ages 10 months to 12 years. He’s also a Grand Valley student, finishing a bachelor’s degree and two certificate programs. That’s where the adaptability comes in; he’s an expert in finding time to complete readings and presentations for his classes while managing the Wen household as a stay-at-home parent.

“I put electronic copies of the books and articles I need to read on my phone, so when we’re at the library for story time, I can get through some of the content,” he said.

He’s been known to listen to audiobooks for his classes while cooking and doing laundry. 

“In the fall, when our oldest was in soccer, I would sit in the parking lot and catch up on my work instead of driving there to drop off and driving back to pick up,” he said. “And, I would be able to catch some of the practice also.”

Wen will graduate in April with an accelerated bachelor’s degree in integrative studies and two certificate programs. He hopes the degree and certificates in Business Fundamentals and Leadership will be the needed boost to a managerial position in the restaurant industry. One that, Wen said, “Will hopefully get me a more family-oriented job, with more regular hours.”

If university leaders envisioned a typical student who would enroll in these programs, Wen is a perfect example. Grand Valley launched the LEADS program in 2020, and several certificate programs were established a few years before that. Melanie Shell-Weiss, associate dean for Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, said the impetus for developing these programs was largely two-fold.

“We followed best-practice recommendations about how to support student persistence, and the program expands avenues for students to demonstrate advanced skill sets to employers or prospective employers,” Shell-Weiss said. 

Certificate and badges

Reentering college after life gets in the way

John and Megan Wen moved to Michigan from Maine four years ago to be closer to family. Wen started college classes in Maine then left school for work. His parents were disappointed, he said.

“My parents disapproved of me dropping out, especially because I was a first-generation student,” he said. 

When they moved to West Michigan, Wen found a job in a restaurant and worked his way up to assistant manager, on track for a management position. Then the pandemic came, changing how most restaurants operated and closing others. John and Megan, who is a social worker for Pine Rest, also juggled providing support for their older children who were home when their schools closed for remote learning.

“We found that even when they went back to school, one or the other was home a lot because of quarantine,” Wen said.

They made a difficult decision that one parent should stay at home. Wen said they were fortunate their savings provided a cushion to do so. It was then he decided to go back to finish his degree.

Wen initially took a few classes at Grand Rapids Community College then started the LEADS program at Grand Valley in May.

The online, accelerated degree program also offers certificate programs in one of five high-demand areas.

“My advisor and I worked out a plan so I would finish the bachelor’s degree and these two certificates concurrently,” Wen said. “A lot of jobs now require a bachelor’s degree and I thought the certificates will help boost my resume.”

The courses for the certificates in Business Fundamentals and Leadership have some overlap, Wen said. “But the takeaways are different with each program,” he said.

There’s another reason — four reasons, really — Wen said he wants to finish his degree. He tells his kids that their parents represent two different paths to a college education. Megan took a traditional path to college and now has two master’s degrees plus experience as a Peace Corps volunteer.

“I tell our older kids that if they want to explore something after high school, that’s fine, but to have a rewarding career, they need to go to college,” he said. 

Tara Daggett smiles with her hair down and over one shoulder

Tara Daggett

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