Returning to College After 20 Years, MATC Promise for Adults Participant Finds Success

Program provided 39-year-old mother of two and Business Management graduate free tuition

Mark Feldmann,

December 14, 2023

Shauna Winkelman

I am proud of myself. I didn’t really know this was a possibility for me. This is a stepping stone for me, but it’s an important stepping stone. You can’t do anything without the first step.

Shauna Winkelman MATC Business Management graduate and MATC Promise for Adults scholar

Shauna Winkelman was scared stiff to go back to school.

Born and raised near Chicago, she graduated high school in 2003. She attended Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois, for one year before dropping out to deal with family issues.

Nearly two decades later, at the age of 38, she enrolled at Milwaukee Area Technical College through the college’s Promise for Adults program, which offers free tuition to eligible students who previously earned some college credits but never completed a degree.

“I was terrified,” Winkelman admitted. “My initial college experience was terrible. I hadn’t taken a math class since 9/11, and I also really didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

At MATC, Winkelman found her academic and professional groove. She earned a 3.9 grade point average, made the Vice President of Learning List, and was admitted to both the National Society of Leadership and Success and Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for students at open-access institutions. 

She will graduate this month with an associate degree in Business Management. In the spring, Winkelman plans to begin business classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to earn a bachelor’s degree. She also hopes to someday get a master’s degree in business administration.

“I love working with people and teams. I love creating seamless and pleasant customer experiences. I love solving problems,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to have a career where I put all of my skills to work.

“But without a degree, you won’t get an opportunity,” she added. “You can say you have all sorts of work experience and that you have done everything, but a degree shows employers that you have the skillset that they’re looking for.”

Entering the workforce

After leaving Elmhurst College, Winkelman started working. She got a job as a bagger at an upscale, nationally-known grocery store and moved her way up to customer service team leader. In 2018, she moved to Milwaukee to become a team leader at the chain’s Wauwatosa location. She managed the customer relations office for two years and another department for two years. 

During her time in Wisconsin, she had two sons and the COVID-19 pandemic struck. She felt she needed to re-evaluate her life. “I took a step back and decided what I needed to do was to go back to college and finish my degree,” she said.

Co-workers at the grocery store suggested she check out MATC. She liked the option of online courses, then read about the MATC Promise program on the college’s website.

The MATC Promise for Adults program was launched in 2018 as an expansion of the college’s MATC Promise for New High School Graduates program. In the past five years, the program has served more than 1,400 adult students and nearly 400 have completed a MATC certificate, technical diploma or associate degree.

“I found the college process super easy,” she said. “Everything was right there on the website. I made some phone calls about financial aid and I asked right away about what the transfer process was like.”

Along with getting free tuition through the Promise program, Winkelman received a grant that provided childcare for her sons at the childcare facility at MATC’s Mequon Campus. That allowed the Brown Deer resident to become a full-time student. She took classes during the Winterim and Summer sessions.

“Everything happened so fast,” she said. “I can’t believe it was just last fall when I was starting. I am proud of myself. I didn’t really know this was a possibility for me. This is a stepping stone for me, but it’s an important stepping stone. You can’t do anything without the first step.”

Learn about MATC’s Promise programs

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.