The University Record, June 17, 2002

U-M employees receive GED and lifelong dream

By Michelle Begnoche
University Record Intern

“Building Services has opened doors for us, but it was up to each of us to take the responsibility to work hard and walk through those doors,” Ollie Hudson declared during a banquet in honor of M-Peoples 2002 GED graduating class. Fourteen Plant Building Services and Housing employees received their GEDs through M-People this year. The M-People Program is a comprehensive employee development and diversity initiative designed to assist U-M employees in pursuing upward mobility.

For many of the graduates, receiving their GED was a lifelong goal fulfilled. “It seems like there is something missing in your life when you don’t graduate,” explains Kay Teeples. Teeples completed 9th grade in 1960, but left school to get married and start a family. “I went to my graduation in ’63 and cried,” Teeples remembers, “I always felt bad about not graduating. But I had my children and I wouldn’t give that up.”

Darold Slauterbeck also felt like something was missing, “I’d always wanted my high school diploma. It was something I always regretted not doing.” Slauterbeck completed the 9th grade in 1956, but had to quit because he had asthma.

The transition back into the classroom was difficult after being away for 20–30 years. “If you don’t work out regularly your muscles aren’t what they should be. It’s the same way with your brain I guess. If you don’t use it on a regular basis it kinda gets flabby,” explains Slauterbeck. Hudson, who completed 9th grade in 1981, admitted getting back into studying and classes was difficult, “I was thinking I was too old and too done.”

The study load was demanding and the students worked hard. “I would get up in the morning and study two or three hours most every day,” says Slauterbeck. Because new GED tests come out every year, many students had to learn three years worth of material in 2–3 months to make the deadline. “We crammed,” laughed Teeples. “You don’t lose train of thought that way.”

“We subcontract our teachers from Ann Arbor Public Schools through the Stone School adult education program working closely with Gayl Dybdahl, the principal,” remarks David Judge, M-People director.

This semester Grant Dybdahl, who graduated from U-M this spring, taught the math component of the program alongside, Sam Wickizer and Judy Wenzel. “The teachers were very supportive, always trying to encourage us,” Slauterbeck says. “If I would have been encouraged like this when I was younger I probably would have done this a long time ago.”

Hudson also praises the teachers. “I tested into technical algebra and they said I had a college level writing. That’s not bad for not being in school for 20 years. That is a credit to the teachers.”

The success of the graduates might never have occurred without some prodding and convincing on the part of building supervisors and alumni of the program. “My girlfriend graduated with her GED and she influenced me to go back. I never would have done it without the program,” Teeples says.

Judge and Building Services Director Nathan Norman took an active recruiting stance, attending employee meetings and signing up people on the spot. “There were many factors in life that contributed to each person dropping out of high school. However, by creating a positive environment and opportunity, each student decided to step forward and complete something they have always wanted to do,” Judge says.

The program is set up so students can participate in classes during their work time while still being paid. “That’s important for some of the single mothers in the group,” says Judge, who explains finding and paying for childcare to take classes outside of work is impossible for many employees. Classes took place for two hours twice a week.

Active support had to be kept up through the duration of the classes. “One of the supervisors, Paul Pritzlaff, says you’re doing real good, your scores are high. I didn’t know that. At the time I was about ready to drop out,” recalls Slauterbeck. Pritzlaff is the program manager for M-People.

U-M’s Employee Education and GED program began in 1975. By 1993 when Norman became director it was on the verge of being shut down because of low enrollment. Under Norman’s guidance the program was revitalized and has expanded to include classes to teach English to non-native speakers, computer classes and a college prep course for those who wish to continue their education.

“As we anticipate our move to 109 E. Madison, our newly installed computer lab will greatly enhance the M-People program,” Judge explains.

The GED is one of several components within the newly formed M-People program. “This program provides ways for people to pursue upward mobility,” Judge states. “Accomplishing the GED is crucial for job advancement and future success.”

Once the GED is completed, employees are able to go on to other programs, such as EWOC, Employees Working Out of Classification. “This includes a new title, a pay raise, and gives employees exposure to a new organization, and visa versa. Upon completing the GED, employees can then use the U-M reimbursement policy for college classes,” Judge says.

The 2002 GED graduates are determined to continue their education. Slauterbeck, Teeples and others plan to enroll in introductory computer courses at Washtenaw Community College this fall. Hudson and other graduates plan to enroll in trades and vocational programs. “I know there is more and I am not going to stop,” he declares. Teeples says, “Knowing I can go on with it and learn something for myself” is the best part of receiving a diploma.

Graduates say the journey is not yet over. However, in receiving their GED they have overcome what was perhaps their biggest barrier, opening a new realm of possibility in their lives. Teeples attests to that, “I felt like this was just life. That’s how it made me feel different. I loved it.”