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Business Manager Begins College Degree after 35 Years in the Workforce

By Meaghan Cayer on September 29, 2016
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Before his time at Bay State College, Bill Zinkowski never considered himself to be the academic type.

Attending high school in Boston during the racial desegregation of the early 70s came with its challenges, and on top of that, Bill's mother was diagnosed with cancer at the same time. His focus was not on his studies, and his grades suffered as a result.

Upon graduation, he went straight into the work force. Neither of his parents made it past the ninth grade, and an undergraduate degree wasn't necessary to get a job at the time, so he forewent pursuing one.

Life went on. Bill worked as a manager at Reebok, got married, and had a family.

Until the Great Recession in 2008, when Bill was laid off for the first time.

They relocated my department out to South Carolina just before the economy tanked. I chose not to go down there because my family and friends and house are up here. I figured I could find a job really easily. Well, that didn't happen. I would go into an interview and they would say, 'Oh, great experience, 22 years as a manager at a major corporation. But where’s your degree?' It ended up forcing me to really take a look at my education.

Bill's wife encouraged him to go back to school and take evening classes, pointing out the Bay State College ad in the newspaper, but it was his son that really inspired him to pursue the opportunity. Bill accompanied him to a college night at his high school, where he learned about the application process. He saw him take advanced placement courses and enter the honors program. By the time he graduated, he was in the top of his class. "Seeing his success inspired me to get out there and do things," Bill said.

After much deliberation, Bill enrolled in the Business Administration Associates program at Bay State College's Middleborough location (now in Taunton, MA). Looking back at that time, he recounted what was his "hidden driver" for succeeding academically:

My son, he's a great student. When he got his first B, he was in tears. I told him, 'You did a great job, it doesn't matter.' And he replied, 'You just don't understand.' Well, when I first started my Associates degree at Bay State, I got an A-. I was devastated. Then my son said, 'Well, you didn't get a B, but how does it feel when you don't get a straight A? You keep going to classes and you're going to get a B eventually, and then I'm going to remind you what you said to me, that it's okay.' I never did get another A-.

Bill Zinkowski delivered his valedictorian speech at the Bay State College Commencement two years later.

"It was nice to see myself progress academically when I really didn't think I had it in me," he said. "I started taking classes and was getting A's and thought, 'Oh, this is exciting.' I really enjoyed it, and was encouraged by instructors to share my work experience with the class."

After getting a new job, Bill returned to Bay State College for his bachelor's degree in Management, achieving yet again the position of valedictorian upon graduation. It was this degree, Bill said, that helped him get his current job.

"They loved the fact that I went back to school," he said. "They couldn't believe everything that I had done - working and going back to school, and on top of that how I had done so well. Getting the job was a piece of cake."

He continued on, saying that "In hindsight, I wouldn't have changed a thing. What good would a 30-year-old degree be in today's market? Things are so different now. I've learned about things, like social media marketing, that I didn't know before."

As for Bill's advice to someone looking to go to Bay State College?

"Just take it. Take the chance and see how the first classes go. If you don't get your feet wet, you're never going to know if it's right for you or not."

If you're anything like Bill Zinkowski, you could end up valedictorian.