January 4, 2019 | Katherine Adams
The difficult demands of job and family life can take a toll on college students, especially when one of those factors instigates a transfer from one college to another. According to the National Clearinghouse Research Center, about 342,860 college students transfer each year. University of Houston-Clear Lake senior and transfer student Matthew Helle didn’t have an easy time juggling a 60-hour work week, a family and rigorous college classes, but with the constant guidance and support of his transfer adviser, Kristi Rickman, he will graduate with his bachelor of science in computer information systems in May 2019.
“I was always working, so it was hard for me to complete my degree,” said Helle, who transferred to UH-Clear Lake in 2013 from College of the Mainland. “Because of my work and due to things going on in my life, I had to stop. I reapplied to UHCL in 2015 and that’s when I met Kristi as my transfer adviser.”
But Helle, who is 46 and is employed as a control systems automation specialist for an industrial construction company in Deer Park, found that when he returned in 2015, the degree plan he’d begun two years earlier had changed. “I needed help and I didn’t want to lose any credits,” he said.
Enter Rickman, who works to onboard every single transfer student successfully into UHCL and is the transfer adivser liaison for the College of Science and Engineering.
“We go through their transcripts and see how the courses from their previous college fit and apply to their current degree,” she said. “Matt found me because UHCL has a mandatory advising hold for all transfer students, meaning they must meet with an adviser to determine how their transfer credits apply toward their degree plan and to ensure they enroll in the appropriate classes here at UHCL. He was a returning transfer student and time is extremely valuable to him due to his job, which did not allow him the flexibility he needed to come to campus and talk to people.”
“Kristi got me on the right track with everything, and she advocated for me,” Helle said. “I couldn’t leave work. Getting my bachelor’s degree has been on my bucket list for a long time, and I took four classes in the fall semester while working full-time, with three more to go. Kristi has helped me through the entire process.”
Before working at his current job, Helle said, he had a different employer for 18 years. “They wouldn’t let me go to class and I actually had to quit so I could work somewhere that would let me complete my education,” he said. “It’s really not been easy. I have no time like ‘normal’ students to take care of things on campus, like talking to deans or professors and making arrangements for anything. It’s been a challenge and a struggle.”
But Helle said that despite the hurdles, he’s gotten through it with Rickman’s help, and his professors have been flexible and understanding. “Because of my job, I have to tell professors that I can’t get to class a lot of the time, but I will always do the work,” he said. “I might have to be late to a test or a quiz. I always let them know and so far, they have all worked with me. I have never had a problem.”
He said that Professor of Computer Science and Computer Information Systems Sharon Perkins Hall had been particularly helpful to him. “She lets me talk to the other students about my work experience,” Helle said. “A lot of the students in that class are also older, and what she’s teaching has a lot of real applications on the job site. Her class is very current to what is going on in the field,” he said.
Hall said that Helle makes valiant efforts to get to class, although he’s sometimes unavoidably late. “It helps that I’m familiar with the kind of work he does, and I know that he has to miss class sometimes due to legitimate work reasons,” she said. “He does not ask for special favors. When a student works this hard to complete their education, I’m happy to do whatever I can to help them succeed.”
She said she posted class notes and homework to the university’s online classroom software. “That way he knows what to do to stay up with the class,” she said. “We all appreciate his contributions and I think his effort and his determination are truly inspiring.”
Rickman said that she thought Helle was amazing. “He entered before UHCL’s downward expansion and he had a lot of unique challenges, but he was determined to finish his degree,” she said.
“I have been turned down for jobs in this industry, despite 20 years of experience, because I couldn’t check the box that said ‘college degree,’ Helle said. “It made me hungry to get finished.”
Helle said that he would complete his degree due to the help of Rickman and the flexibility of his professors. “When you’re in my shoes, you really appreciate all the help you can get,” he said.
For more information about UHCL’s Computer Information Systems degree, visit www.uhcl.edu/academics/degrees/computer-information-systems-bs.