Spring grad tuned in to a commitment to finish her degree

4 – minute read

In her role as an FM traffic manager, Marilyn Kennedy manages and schedules the flow of promotional advertising for Southwest Florida’s public radio station, WGCU-FM 90.1 and WMKO 91.7.


Her job entails ensuring that each ad and promo finds its rightful place on the airwaves as listeners tune in. That’s how it was for her as a Florida Gulf Coast University student too — five years of courses arranged to fit the rhythm of her life, balancing work, family and education and culminating in her May graduation.


The Illinois native was initially hesitant to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program after spending most of the 1980s earning an associate degree in computer science. But a supportive colleague nudged Kennedy toward a program designed to help students like her bridge the gap between an associate and a bachelor’s degree.

FGCu grad Marilyn Kennedy

Recognizing the importance of providing opportunities for students to finish their degrees, the university introduced FGCU Complete several years ago. The degree-completion program offers anyone with previously earned college credits at FGCU or elsewhere the chance to pick up where they left off and work toward attaining a degree in one of six fields.


Kennedy credits Kristen Vanselow, assistant vice president of Innovative Education and Partnerships, and Melissa Mari, an FGCU Complete student navigator, with making it easy for nontraditional students to finish their degree. “I relied on them a lot,” she says. “They were always proactive in helping me and just pushed everything through.”

FGCU Complete has enticed nontraditional students seeking career advancements to finish their degrees. But Kennedy had what she considered a great job on the FGCU campus at WGCU Public Media, which includes National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service television among its multiple broadcast and digital media platforms.


“It was more of an internal thing,” Kennedy says about her desire to pursue her bachelor’s degree in integrated studies. “I always wanted to go back, but I was in computers and my career took off so quickly. Before I knew it, I was in charge of 80 stores and married with four children very close in age. Life took a different route and school wasn’t really in the picture.”

But five years ago, her colleague Christopher Jordanek, assistant director for e-learning in the Department of Digital Learning, left flyers for FGCU Complete on her desk. “He said, ‘You have a two-year degree. This is a great program. You should go for it.’”


Although the idea of going back to school was daunting, Kennedy decided going for it was worth the effort. Her biggest challenge as a student came in the past year.


“Right here at the end, I had three math classes,” she says, shaking her head in dismay. “After not having math for quite some time — that was my biggest hurdle.”


While many of her fellow spring graduates missed their high school graduation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kennedy was working in FGCU’s digital learning department, helping move classes online.

“I feel like I’ve been on 1,000% for an extended period of time,” she says. Between her classes, learning new technologies during the pandemic and taking a new job at WGCU, the past five years have been “constant overload” for her.


As she neared the finish line, her FGCU Complete adviser asked her the standard question: What are you going to do when you graduate?


She quipped, “Retire.”


In reality, Kennedy wants to find time for something she learned about in one of her classes. Suffering from alopecia, she was surprised to find that her hair grew in while she took a yoga class.

FGCu grad Marilyn Kennedy
Marilyn Kennedy received her bachelor’s degree in integrated studies in May.

“I’m definitely going to get back to yoga now that I don’t have to do all the homework,” she says.


Does she have any advice for others wondering how to balance work and family with finishing their degree?


“You have to not put things off,” Kennedy says. “There were moments this semester where I spent so much time behind a computer, and I was really having a hard time. I work on a computer all day and then I would get home and have homework. But I knew if I put it off I was going to be in trouble. And that was the thing. You really have to push.”


Rooting for her to finish that degree was her family. Her husband, Robert, and their youngest son, Daniel, cheered for her during commencement May 5 in Alico Arena.


“My folks are 93 and 91, and they watched a livestream of the ceremony online with my sister and brother-in-law,” Kennedy says. This was a big moment for them, too. Although Kennedy’s children have three bachelor’s degrees and a master’s among them, she says, “I’m actually a first-generation college graduate.”

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