A Portage woman has set her career goals on higher education, and is on the first rung of the ladder.
Jennifer Dennison, 30, is a program assistant in the Academic Success and Achievement Programs at Indiana University Northwest in Gary and will celebrate her fourth anniversary in that department in July.
Dennison, who graduated from Portage High School in 2003, began her journey at Indiana University in Bloomington. She earned a bachelor of science degree in elementary education. During the summers, Dennison helped finance her education by working in the admissions department at IUN.
"I really enjoyed the job and working with other students," she said.
After graduating from IU, Dennison accepted a position teaching first grade at a school in Phoenix.
"I loved teaching first grade and I could have renewed my contract, but I decided to come back here and see if I could get into higher education," she said. "It wasn't that I didn't like what I was doing; it was that I found something that I liked even more. (Higher education) really fit my personality and the way I worked."
Dennison returned to the region in 2008 and worked in the admissions department at IUN until 2010, when she obtained a job in the Academic Success and Achievement Programs. As a single woman with no children, Dennison decided to go back to school. She worked on her degree as she assisted other college students as they entered the university.
"It's their first experience in this kind of school environment. I enjoy helping them navigate and take ownership of what they are doing and why they are here," Dennison said.
Dennison began working on her master's in 2011. Working full time and taking at least two classes per semester, including the summer, was an exercise in time management, she said. Dennison said she learned how to manage her time and earned a master's in public administration last month from IUN.
When someone is considering going back to college, Dennison said it's important to develop goals. She said she talked with people in the student affairs department and throughout higher education to find out what skills she needed to be more marketable and an asset to the university.
"One of the things becoming more prevalent in higher education is the use of data to make decisions," Dennison said. "Everything is evidence-based decision-making, so I needed to enhance my skills working with statistics and learning how to run and analyze data.
"If someone is thinking about going back to school and getting an advanced degree, don't think about all of the reasons why you shouldn't do it. There is never a perfect time to go back. There is always going to be something else going on. Find an institution with some level of flexibility and you'll be fine."