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HPU student’s “non-traditional” approach leads to degree after 17 years

mike bannister and lester towell for webBROWNWOOD – May 6, 2015 – The path to a college degree varies a bit for every student, but for Howard Payne University senior Mike Bannister, the journey was almost 17 years in the making.

The 56-year-old Brownwood native will receive his Bachelor of Science degree in computer information systems this May after first setting foot on the HPU campus as a student in 1999.

“I tell everyone I have tenure,” he says, laughing. “I’ve made a career out of being a student. Some semesters I took a single class. The largest course load I’ve taken in a semester is 10 hours.”

He also took several breaks from classes due to a busy work schedule, including 15 months when he lived in Singapore. Bannister says his employer of 30 years, 3M in Brownwood, has been very supportive throughout his academic career.

“My managers gave me a lot of flexibility in my schedule,” he says. “I’m really thankful for the support they’ve given me.”

As a product development engineer with 3M, staying current with technological trends is crucial for Bannister as he works with lab teams to bring new products to market. His HPU coursework has proven to be a solid foundation upon which to build his expertise in his field.

“The technology has changed since I first started at HPU in 1999, but I am able to take what I learned then and continue to adapt my knowledge and skills,” says Bannister.

He has seen many classes of students graduate since he arrived on campus and has even been able to mentor some students in their own paths.

“I tell them to treat college seriously and concentrate as they go after their own degrees,” he says. “I try to encourage them because I know the hurdles they are facing.”

Bannister did not have a single college hour when he began at HPU.

“I was intimidated and nervous,” he says. “I had to relearn study skills, but I ended up being a lot better college student than I was a high school student.”

Cheryl Mangrum, associate director of admission, processed Bannister’s applications for readmission throughout the years. She works with many non-traditional students which include, but are not limited to, current and retired military personnel, working parents, husbands and wives, and single students over the age of 21 with no previous college experience.

“I was also a non-traditional student at HPU and can most certainly relate to Mike’s 17-year academic career,” she says. “I was on an extended degree plan of 11 years while working as a full-time university employee. I appreciate so much his dedication and perseverance.”

Mangrum says HPU’s faculty, staff and student body are very supportive of non-traditional students.

“They appreciate and embrace the fact that these students bring to the classroom maturity and life experience, which greatly enrich the educational experience both inside and outside the classroom,” she says. “The journey toward a bachelor’s degree may take longer for some non-traditional students, but the destination is worth the journey and the journey is worth the destination. The educational experiences and the relationships forged along the way are priceless and are lifetime investments.”

At the Academic Awards Convocation held at the end of April, Bannister was named the Outstanding Student in Computer Information Systems and Outstanding Non-Traditional Student for the 2014-2015 academic year. He was also inducted into HPU’s chapter of the Sigma Beta Delta International Business Honor Society. Dr. Lester Towell, chair of the Department of Computer Information Systems and CIS professor, says Bannister is a “model student.”

“He asks questions, attends every class and completes all projects on time,” Dr. Towell says. “Mike exemplifies the desire for an education over a grade. I could not ask for a better student or example.”

Now that his academic days are drawing to a close, Bannister is excited about the opportunity to continue furthering his career while spending more time with his wife and family. As a member of the first generation in his immediate family to complete requirements for a college degree, Bannister is proud of his accomplishment and thankful for the opportunity to attend HPU. He offers advice to others who may be considering an unconventional approach to higher education.

“No matter how scared or nervous you are, at least give it a try,” he says. “Take a class and see how you do. The ‘A’ grades I received were encouraging and gave me the fuel to go on to each new semester.”

For more information about becoming a student at Howard Payne University, contact HPU’s Office of Admission at (325) 649-8020 or via e-mail at enroll@hputx.edu.

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