Top returning adult students honored for perseverance, success

April 9, 2018 By Dean Robbins

MADISON – For some returning adult students, graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Madison is nothing short of a miracle.

Angeline Mboutngam

Angeline Mboutngam was raised in a small village in Cameroon where girls had little chance of going to school. She didn’t learn to read and write English until she moved to the United States in her mid 30s, and financial obstacles made an undergraduate degree seem impossible.

But Mboutngam enrolled at UW–Madison and excelled in spite of innumerable hardships. For her pluck and perseverance, she will receive an Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Award at an April 24 ceremony.

“Despite the daily challenges of being a student, a mother of four, and an immigrant, Angeline’s positive energy is an inspiration,” says Annette McDaniel, associate dean at the School of Human Ecology, where Mboutngam majors in Community and Nonprofit Leadership. “After her husband lost his job, she added primary breadwinner to her long list of obligations while still managing to persist in her studies.”

The other winner of an Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Award is Chance Cork, who grew up on the street and in foster care. He dropped out of college and entered the workforce for six years, discovering an interest in engineering. Sheer grit got him to Madison College and then UW–Madison, where he overcame a learning disability and distinguished himself in the Materials Science and Engineering Program.

Chance Cork

“Chance is one of the most outstanding students I’ve encountered in my 10-plus years working with UW–Madison’s transfer students,” says Jessica Regan, the College of Engineering’s transfer coordinator. “He is mature, hardworking, and determined.”

Since 1981, UW–Madison’s Adult Career and Special Student Services office and the Dean of Students have presented Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Awards to people who have resumed their academic pursuits after a significant interruption and have attained senior status while handling all the demands of adult life. Along with Mboutngam and Cork, the April 24 ceremony will honor four runners-up and more than 30 returning adult students who’ve received scholarships. The inspiring event is at 4:30 p.m. in the UW Memorial Union Great Hall.

Even with their own challenges, Mboutngam and Cork have devoted themselves to helping others through UW–Madison student organizations. And both have ambitious plans to serve their communities after graduation. Mboutngam will focus on underserved populations in Madison and Cameroon, while Cork hopes to start a nonprofit for foster youth dreaming of a college education.

Mboutngam is thankful for the campus resources that helped her through school, and she’s eager to spread the word about the benefits of an undergraduate degree.

“Being in college is a way for me to model the importance of higher education,” she says. “I want to instill in all kids the curiosity for knowledge and the zeal for education beyond high school.”

Cork initially struggled to fit in with younger students on campus but found ample opportunities to pursue his passions. He’s glad UW–Madison makes room for nontraditional undergraduates, easing their path with mentoring and financial assistance.

“I am grateful to be in an atmosphere that appreciates adult students such as myself.”