QUINCY, Ill. | As a class assignment during her senior year at Quincy University, Jenn Wingerter was required to develop a blog.
She called her Web-based musings: "The Great Juggling Act."
The title was appropriate because it accurately reflects what it took for Wingerter to achieve her goal of receiving a bachelor's degree in public relations during the May 12 commencement exercises at QU.
Wingerter, 35, managed to attend QU as a full-time student during the past two years while simultaneously running a home day care five days a week.
On Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., she would provide personalized attention to a dozen kids, ages newborn to 12. Then she would spend a little time with her husband, Shane, and their own three kids — Benjamin, Bethany and Corrie. Finally it would be time to start her schoolwork.
Wingerter was able to attend some night classes offered through QU. But many of her classes were not offered at night, so she had to find other ways to meet course requirements while continuing to run the day care.
Fortunately, she said, "QU was very flexible" in helping her accomplish this feat.
"I worked a lot with Dr. John and Dr. Barb Schleppenbach, and they were really fantastic," Wingerter said.
"If I needed an independent study, they figured out how to do an independent study or an online class or a blended class, or I could just come in and take a test or come in for a presentation. They really helped me limit the amount of time I had to be on campus."
Some of Wingerter's communication classes were offered around the noon hour. So if Wingerter had to attend a particular class session, she would take a lunch break while a relative would watch the day care. Then she'd run over to the QU campus a few blocks from her home.
Wingerter said the Schleppenbachs went out of their way to arrange online courses for her to take. Last semester, for example, she had a business communication class and did everything from home except take tests and give one presentation.
"I really appreciate their efforts," she said. "Most of my stuff at QU was them helping me do a traditional class in an untraditional way."
Taking classes in a nontraditional manner is nothing new for Wingerter, who attended Quincy's Calvary Academy through ninth grade and was then home-schooled for grades 10-12. During those last three years, she did a lot of online independent study through the Bob Jones Academy in South Carolina, which awarded her a high school diploma.
Wingerter got married at 19 and started raising a family, which put her education on hold for a while. Then in 2004, while already caring for her own three kids, she decided to open a home day care to provide some supplemental income for the family.
By 2008, Wingerter was ready to resume her education. So she enrolled at John Wood Community College and by spring 2011 managed to earn an associate degree in communication by taking classes entirely online. She would do her coursework at night after running the day care during the day.
"Usually when I put my kids to bed, I went down to the office and I would start my classwork," she said. She also filled some course requirements through JWCC's open learning center.
"John Wood is a fantastic school for having the flexibility to do that," she said.
Wingerter admits it's been a struggle for her at times to operate a day care while simultaneously going to college.
During her final year at JWCC, for example, "I really struggled with some anxiety of just having the pressure of trying to get everything done," she said.
"But I have a really fantastic husband who has been extremely supportive and adjusted his schedule to allow for me to reach this goal, and I have a really supportive family. I'm one of five siblings, and they've all been terrific helping with my kids, and my parents have been great. To have a community of people around you really helps."
With a bachelor's degree finally in hand, Wingerter says her career plans for the future are still uncertain. She hopes to do some freelance public relations work and will eventually try to secure a full-time job in public relations, possibly with a nonprofit group.
"That's where my heart is," she said.
Meanwhile, she plans to keep running the day care indefinitely.
"I really enjoy the day care and the flexibility of being able to be home when my kids are home too and set my hours," she said. "Also, my husband would like to return to school, so I would like to support him in the same way he supported me."
Wingerter said she's glad she pushed ahead and completed her college education despite the major juggling act that was required.
"I was determined to finish it. It was a life goal, and I'm glad to be seeing it to fruition," she said.
"Education opens up a lot of doors and opportunities, and I don't think it's ever too late to open that door."