Ogallala woman earns degree after three decades away from school
It’s never too late to go back to school.
That’s according to Gigi Berol, of Ogallala, who returned to college after almost 30 years. In May, she earned an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business with an emphasis in nonprofit management from Mid-Plains Community College.
“The same timing isn’t right for everybody,” Berol said. “But, earning a degree at some point in your life is doable – especially if you have the support of your family, friends and employer like I did.”
The early days
Berol started out as a traditional student. After graduating from Columbus High School in 1986, she enrolled at Central Community College – Columbus. At that time, it was known as Platte Technical College.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life,” Berol said. “I took business classes thinking maybe I wanted to pursue something in business, but I also studied fashion and daycare.”
She quit school after a year and a half to take a position nannying in California, but the job didn’t pan out.
“I had the paperwork filled out then got scared and didn’t go,” Berol said of the California trip. “I also didn’t finish my last semester at Central. My parents weren’t very happy about that.”
Berol went into the workforce instead. She had a friend in Columbus whose parents owned the North Shore Lodge at Lemoyne, and they offered Berol a job there in the summer of 1992.
“I was only planning on spending that summer at the lake, but then I met my husband,” Berol said. “Steve had a similar situation. He moved from Colorado to work at North Shore for the season, and now here we are – still in Ogallala all these years later.”
The couple raised a son and a daughter during their time in the town. Gigi spent 15 years working at Ogallala Community Hospital, both in admissions and as the x-ray manager, prior to taking on her current role as outreach administrative assistant for the MPCC Ogallala Campus.
Tying up loose ends
It wasn’t until 2017 that she began thinking about going back to finish what she started.
“I was at a point where my career required a college degree,” Gigi said. “Honestly, it was always one of those things that had been left undone. My mom and dad had both been educators and had wanted my siblings and I to keep going.”
She decided to take the classes online and via distance learning through MPCC because of the flexibility aspect.
“Doing so allowed me to schedule school around my job,” Gigi said. “I could study over my lunch hour or come into work early and finish assignments before the campus opened. The idea of going back to school was overwhelming at first, but the instructors and staff at MPCC were very helpful and reassuring.”
Their support proved to be a tremendous comfort to her. She soon found that everything she remembered from college – from the writing style to technology – had changed.
“I was a ‘C’ student in high school, so the thought of embarrassing myself in front of my coworkers was terrifying,” Gigi said. “Fortunately, my supervisor [Mary Pierce] was extremely supportive, as were my family and friends within the college.”
She took a couple of classes each semester, during the winterim session and in the summer. Some of her instructors also made accommodations for independent study.
“I just kept chipping away, one step at a time,” Gigi said. “I took a year off when my mom was sick and dying, but then I went back to it.”
Fortunately, she was able to transfer in 20 of her credits from Central.
“That’s the thing I think a lot of people don’t realize,” Gigi said. “Credits don’t expire.”
Once she got into the groove of taking classes again, Gigi found the college experience to be much more enriching the second time around.
“I appreciated education more than when I was 18,” Gigi said. “I felt more eager to learn and goal-oriented because in high school, I really didn’t care. At MPCC, I wanted to get better grades. I wanted that GPA to be good. The older you get, you realize that’s a big deal, so that was something I strived for. If I didn’t get the grade I wanted, I studied harder the next time.”
Her efforts paid off – earning her a spot on the college’s Dean’s List and induction into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
Gigi’s biggest sense of accomplishment, however, came May 13, the day she walked across the stage at commencement and accepted her long-awaited degree.
“It was incredible,” Gigi said. “Not just because I wanted it, but because a higher education was so important to my parents and because, as a parent, I wanted to set an example for my children. I wanted to show them it’s never too late. You’re never too old to keep learning. You just have to believe in yourself. You can do it. You’re worth it, and college will always be there when the timing is right.”