Campus support helps senior learn from series of missteps
Psychology students read about theories on development, addiction and grieving. For UW-L student Jamie Scholl these topics aren’t just potential exam material — they’re mile posts in the story of his past.
Only three years ago, Scholl’s typical Friday night was spent with a bottle of Crown Royal at a random house party. He would wake up with whiskey on his breath and not recall how he arrived home. His battle with addition to drugs and alcohol started after his mother died of surgical complications after a brain aneurysm when he was only 15.
“I used the death as an excuse to self medicate,” he explains. “After I lost my mom, I reverted back to being a child for a long time … There was a lot of irresponsibility.”
The young man who came to college in spring 2010, is a stark contrast to the man who will graduate in December and go on to graduate school, faculty in the Psychology Department say. Scholl will graduate Sunday, Dec. 16, during a ceremony at the La Crosse Center.
Despite Scholl’s high school behavior, he was a natural with academics and earned a 3.0. He gained entry into UW-L in spring 2010, but his patterns with alcohol and drug abuse continued. Although he wasn’t applying himself fully, he set big goals to earn a business major and “one day make a lot of money.”
“He was one of those students who did what he needed to do to pass the class,” says Emily Johnson, associate professor of psychology. “I see him as a very different student now.”
A phone call from Scholl’s grandma six months after he started college, changed his attitude about his classes and his future. Scholl recalls the upset voice of his grandmother on the other end of the connection explaining that his father had been in car accident the night before and died. It was another obstacle he didn’t know how to handle. But it was a milestone that forced him to quit making excuses for himself surrounding his mom’s death.
“Once it happened to my father, I started to own up to all the stuff I’d done in the past, and I realized what I needed to do if I wanted to make something of myself,” says Scholl. “If you want something done you have to go out and achieve. No one is going to give me a degree because I lost both of my parents.”
Scholl switched majors and started to study psychology. But it wasn’t long before he hit another bump in the road — literally. Drunk driving in fall 2011 caused him to slam his car into a house, making area news headlines. He recalls the humiliation and wondering what faculty in the department would think of him. He worried about returning to class.
But he was surprised to see that no one judged.
“They looked at it as a mistake that a good student made,” he says. “Knowing they were behind me and not against me was important.”
Faculty and staff in the department understand that people make mistakes, says Johnson.
“We are a pretty supportive group across the board,” she says. “We want our students to succeed.”
Lois Stuhr, a 41-year program assistant in the department, recalls seeing Scholl’s bruises on his face from the accident. A mother of two boys, she felt a natural inclination to take him aside and ask what happened. The initial inquiry led to many follow-up discussions. Scholl eventually obtained a job as a work-study student in the department and met more faculty and staff. Stuhr says she and another program assistant came to play a nurturing role in Scholl’s life.
“We correct him. We tell him when he needs to shape up a bit… But we’ve encouraged him more than anything,” Stuhr says with a smile. “I love to help the students, but more than that I love to help those who appreciate it. Jamie has appreciated it.”
Faculty describe the accident as a turning point in Scholl’s education.
“It helped him refocus and reevaluate the value of his education and I see him as a much more serious student now,” says Johnson.
He began to attend “graduate school nights” for psychology students to help them plan for graduate school and the application process. He became involved in the Sociology Club, Psychology Club and the student group Men United Against Sexual Assault. He also volunteered at an assisted living facility in Onalaska.
He became a student who reads from the suggested optional reading list in the course syllabus and the student who can relate life to what he learns — taking some risks to discuss sometimes difficult and complex issues in class, says Ryan McKelley, assistant professor of psychology.
“We can always count on Jamie’s willingness to contribute and share personal experiences that link to the material,” says McKelley.
While the cheering section in the Psychology Department has grown larger, they have become his support system, encouraging Scholl to make it through to graduation and go on to graduate school. And they admire him for his perseverance.
“I was struck by his determination to come back to school and face the fact that he made a mistake,” says Stuhr. “He’s a kid who had been floundering. It could have gone either way. But he was bound and determined to make something of himself.”
Scholl is thankful for the support of faculty and staff in the department, his grandmother, and his girlfriend, Annie Confer, a May 2012 graduate, who drove him to take court-mandated Breathalyzers every morning of spring semester.
His motivation comes from within — to beat the odds and prove to society that mistakes from young adulthood don’t necessarily mean the end of your future.
“I’m motivated knowing a lot people in my position would be down and out. They wouldn’t aspire to be everything I want to be,” he says. “I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from them.”
Scholl looks forward to working one day in the psychology field, preferably as a substance abuse counselor.
“I think he has a lot of potential to help others and keep others from making the mistakes he did,” says Stuhr. “It will be a happy day for me to see him get his degree. Somewhere I hope his mother and dad are smiling.”
If you go —
What: UW-L’s 2012 Winter Commencement
When: 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 16. Doors open at 9 a.m.
Where: La Crosse Center, 300 Harborview Plaza.
Keynote: UW-L student Liz Rosendale
A reception for graduates, friends and family will be held immediately after in the South Hall. For more information, visit www.uwlax.edu/commencement/index.htm.