Nothing stopped student from earning special ed degree

By University Communications
December 20, 2013
Corrine White

Photo: Corrine White

Corrine White doesn’t have enough fingers to count the obstacles she overcame to earn her bachelor’s degree in special education Saturday, Dec. 14, at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

She works nearly full-time, including two 12-hour weekend shifts on the production line at TTM Technologies in Chippewa Falls, where she lives. She works the day shift and her husband, Marvin, works the night shift.  

She and her husband have seven children, ranging in age from six to 13.

One of their children is learning disabled and another has autism.  

In 2012 she and Marvin had a child, Arabella, for her oldest sister, who no longer could have children because of ovarian cancer. Her sister and sister's husband are adopting Arabella.  

"Family is very important to the Native American culture. I had this instilled in me by my parents, and I have instilled it into my children," Corrine said.  

Last April, Corrine was hospitalized when she had one ovary removed and part of the other one removed as a precautionary measure. Despite her compromised reproductive system, she was surprised to learn earlier this year that she was pregnant again. Her ninth child is due Feb. 4. 

A Native American, she is the third oldest of 11 children and the first in her family to go to college.  

In 2010 she almost quit school when six of her extended family members died, including an uncle who was like a second father to her. "That was hard to get over," she said, adding that her grades suffered that semester.  

Nothing has come easy for Corrine, which is one reason her family, parents and extended family are throwing a graduation party in her honor around the holidays in her hometown of Superior. They know how hard she's worked and what she's overcome.  

Corrine's sister, mother, husband and oldest son attended the ceremony Saturday at Johnson Fieldhouse. Her other children watched it live online with in-laws.

Determination and support 
How did she overcome all the obstacles to earn her diploma? She cited the unwavering support of her children and family, along with academic and personal support from professors and Multicultural Student Services at UW-Stout. 

"For me, it's just family support. My mom and dad and husband have been supportive. My children say, when I'm planning a lesson, 'Oh practice on me,' " said Corrine, 35.  

"Professor Amy Schlieve was so great. Whenever I had to talk to someone about my son with autism, she always had the door open. I really had the support at Stout," she said, also mentioning Associate Professor Ruth Nyland in the special education program.  

Schlieve credits Corrine for her "quiet determination and resiliency."

"Corrine is one of the most determined students I've met. Even with the demands of children and working, Corrine seldom missed a class during her undergrad work. In class Corrine brought not only thoughtful contributions but a sense of calm purposefulness to the group," said Schlieve, the special education program director and one of Corrine's professors.  

"Corrine deserves a marching band," she said. Another of Corrine's instructors, Bonnie Shaw, also praised her. "She is one of the most committed and hard-working people I have ever worked with and is an outstanding role model for all student teachers," said Shaw, former principal at South Middle School in Eau Claire.  

Starting over
After high school, Corrine attended UW-Superior for two years, majoring in criminal justice. She took a break from school after she and her husband started a family and moved to Chippewa Falls. 

"I kept saying I'd go back to school, and my mom just said, "Corrine, just do it.' My mom motivated me," she said. Neither of her parents went to college.  

So she did go back. After her sixth child was born, she began taking classes in 2006 at UW-Stout but mostly had to start from scratch because few of her credits transferred from UW-Superior, she said. 

Corrine's current semester has been one of the most challenging. While pregnant, she has traveled daily from Chippewa Falls to Cumberland — about an hour drive — to student-teach all day in the high school, leaving her little time with her family. 

Until Jan. 24 she teaches two special ed classes on her own and co-teaches another class. 

Despite the hardship, the experience has been valuable, she said. 

"I love it. I love working with the kids. I feel very satisfied I made the right decision. I know this is what I really want to do now," she said. "It hasn't been all roses. You learn to work through it and how to handle the kids and what to do and what not to do. So it's taking what I learned at Stout and really applying it."  

Although she has one diploma in hand, Corrine hopes to return to school in the fall to do a semester of student-teaching in early childhood education. It's the only academic barrier standing between her and the opportunity to teach in the primary grades if she chooses.  

Looking back, Corrine knows she beat long odds to graduate, but deep down she knows she's accomplished something else just as important. "As a Native American, you're kind of not expected to make it," she said. "It's a very good feeling to earn my degree."