Lifelong Mizzou fan overcomes obstacles, earns online business degree to become Tiger like father
By Maria Miller Yore
MU’s December 2022 commencement ceremonies saw nearly 2,000 students graduate as Tigers. Many of their degrees were, at least partially, impacted by the “COVID years.” Their classes and ways of life were not what college students typically experienced in years prior. As the university and its educators adapted to the changing circumstances, many students found themselves in a hybrid learning environment that combined both in-person and online classes—a model that has now become a widely accepted and established part of the educational landscape.
For 483 of the Winter 2022 MU graduates, online classes were already expected. That’s because they chose to attend school remotely. Among these was Jamie Wilson, BS BA ‘22, a lifelong Mizzou fan, daughter of a proud Tiger alum and a working mom already many years into her career.
“I had started a family and so I went to work, working worked numerous positions, mostly on the insurance side,” Wilson said.
Wilson received her associate’s degree and a certificate of managed healthcare from Fort Scott Community College in her home state of Kansas in the 1990s. She dreamed of going go back to school to get her degree in business, but something always came up, forcing her to put that dream on hold as life took other twists and turns.
In 2020, as her son was getting ready to graduate college with a business degree himself, she took a leap and enrolled as an online student in the Trulaske College of Business’ BS BA program.
“It was like, I’m doing it,” she said. “I just want to do this. If not for me, then to let my son know, I can do this.”
The online undergraduate business degree program at Mizzou got its start in 2017. It has the same basic requirements as those who enroll in-person and attend classes on campus: 120 credit hours, or generally four years, to receive a bachelor of science in business administration.
Michelle Kemp is the college’s director of undergraduate student services for online initiatives. She not only oversees the program, she also serves as an advisor to every student who enrolls – that’s more than 200 students at any given time who are all at very different stages in their lives.
“Some of them were at Mizzou 10, 15, 20 years ago and they’re coming back. A lot of them are coming to us with an associate degree’s from a community college or coursework somewhere else, so most of them are not starting with zero credit hours,” Kemp explained. “A lot of them are not full-time, and there’s no requirement that they become a full-time student.”
Kemp says the biggest difference between traditional, in-seat students and online students is the focus of their degree. Online students complete their coursework in all areas of the business instead of just one specific emphasis area, like finance and banking, marketing or real estate.
“In the online program, it’s the same degree, without the emphasis area. So, they’re not applying to the upper level, they’re moving straight through and they’re taking some coursework in all of the areas instead of the depth work in any one,” Kemp explained. “If they transfer back to the residential program, they [could] apply to the upper level and then move into an emphasis area.”
For busy nontraditional students like Wilson, who have a variety of responsibilities that may include full-time employment, family obligations, or other commitments, the flexibility of going to school online when life allows is the perfect fit.
“For me, it was fantastic. I’m not going to say it was easy because it was not,” Wilson said. “It tried me. It tried my patience. There were times I said to Michelle, ‘I’m not sure that I can do this.’”
Among Wilson’s favorite classes were law and economics, taught by Robert Hazel. She also enjoyed her management classes taught by Sandra Crews, who spent time working for the Missouri Department of Justice in the early 1990s.
“I thought that was the coolest thing,” Wilson said. “She was tough, and I loved that about her. I took several of her classes. Every time I saw her name next to one, I jumped on [it] because I knew what to expect and she was easy to talk to. I really respect her.”
It was Wilson’s math classes that tried her patience the most. Like many nontraditional students, she had not taken a math class since high school and, even then, it wasn’t her favorite subject. But with the help of a tutor, she passed and ended up enjoying the class and the work.
“If it wasn’t for instructor Wyatt Gregory, I probably would have been done and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ But we got through that and then he helped me with calculus,” Wilson said. “He was fantastic. Once I got through the very first semester, I loved my classes. I loved to learn. I loved to read.”
“Jamie values her education in a way that is amazing,” Kemp said. “She was very intentional in taking full advantage of every opportunity that was available to her. So much so, that she was finding opportunities that are typically more residential opportunities and reaching out and saying, ‘Hey. How can I make this available to me as an online student?’
Wilson and Kemp formed a close bond right from the start. And even though they never actually saw each other in person, they made a point to stay connected as Wilson navigated her way through classes.
BLACK AND GOLD ROOTS
Born and raised in Southeast Kansas, it was always assumed locals were Jayhawk fans. But not in the Wilson house.
“No, no, no! My family — my father and I anyway — we bleed black and gold,” Wilson proclaimed.
Her father, Jim Wilson, BSF '71, is the reason she grew up cheering on Mizzou and always dreamed of being a Tiger herself.
“It was just one of those things I’ve always wanted to do. And if I was going to go back, it was going to be at Missouri. That was my dream,” she said. “Actually, my senior picture in high school was in my dad’s letter jacket.”
Though Jim graduated in 1971, he identifies with the Class of 1966. That’s because he took a break from school when he joined the military to serve his country. As a community college transfer student, he attended Mizzou on an athletic scholarship for track and field.
“When I wasn’t in class, I was in training,” he said. “Coach Tom Botts, the coach back in those days, ran a tight ship. We had a national championship in 1965 and that was a big day. A big year.”
From his dorm room in Defoe, to apartments on Rosemary Street and South College Avenue, to his residency in a historical World War II era Quonset hut (which has since been torn down), Jim has the fondest memories of his time at Mizzou. And though many years have passed, he says the campus and its surroundings still look the same.
“Basically the campus hasn’t changed except it’s gotten bigger,” he said. “Some of the food establishments are still there. The Heidelberg… it will never die!”
He had a chance to visit campus to see some of the changes and catch up with old friends at his 50th class reunion in 2016. Jamie traveled with him, but at the time, didn’t know she, too, would soon share the title of alumnus with her dad and his friends.
“I thought it was wonderful,” Jim said of his daughter’s decision to go back to school. “Not everyone can use a four-year degree. Sometimes a working certificate is better than a degree because of the expense involved. But if you use this degree, which she has and is, it’s definitely worth it.”
“I took the stuff I learned and incorporated it into the job I was doing at the time,” Jamie, who was still working when she started classes, said. “There were so many things I was learning that I thought, ‘Oh, we didn’t do that right,’ or ‘We should’ve done this better.’ That’s what kept me interested, because I could use it. I could incorporate it into my work life.”
A SPECIAL TOUR
As graduation day neared, Jamie Wilson reached out to Kemp for a different request – a tour of the campus. While she had visited with her father before, including on game days, she didn’t really have a true appreciation of where things were located. Kemp didn’t just set up a tour for them, she showed them around herself.
“She made me feel like I had been there before,” Wilson said. “And that was the first time I had ever met her, other than on Zoom.”
“I work really hard to develop those personal relationships, but they’re all through a video screen,” Kemp said. “It’s very uncommon for me to actually get to meet a student in person.”
As Kemp pointed out where certain classes and buildings were located, Jim recalled stories of his time on campus, noting the places he lived and the buildings where he and his fellow “timber beasts” from the School of Forestry took classes. He noticed the skateboards he and his friends used to get around campus had been replaced with scooters. And the old Brewer Field House where he ran and competed had been remodeled and upgraded into the student recreation center.
Jamie and Jim’s college experiences were quite different, but were both among the most memorable accomplishments of their lives.
“Jamie didn’t have that on-campus experience, but she got to kind of feel that with her dad and experience it and share that commonality. I think it was really special and important to her that they had that shared alumni connection even though they got there in very different ways.”
Through hard work, determination and a few tears, Wilson made it to her college graduation exactly 30 years after her graduation from high school.
“My last semester, I took nine hours in the summer and then 18 during the last fall to finish up,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m finishing strong, dang it.’ I wanted it to be in Class of 2022 because I graduated in 1992.”
On December 16, 2022, Jamie Wilson walked proudly across a stage at the Hearnes Center to receive her degree on the same campus and from the same university as her father had 51 years before. It’s a moment that was captured in time and posted for the world to see on Mizzou’s Facebook page.
“It was wonderful. I loved it. I still love it,” Jim said. “I think it made my daughter tear up a little bit and me, too. After the ceremony we were out in the concourse and I said, ‘I have waited a long time to do this -- M-I-Z!”
“Z-O-U,” Jamie quickly replied.
“I get emotional even talking about it because I went to Mizzou,” she said. “I’ve been a Tiger my whole life and now I can honestly say I’m a lifetime member. Nobody can take that away from me.”
It’s an accomplishment that was 30 years in the making – one Jamie Wilson hoped would make her son and her family proud, but ultimately, made herself proud most of all. And she would give anyone questioning the decision to go back to school themselves, the same advice: Go for it.
“I would tell anyone that it’s worth it. It’s hard work but it’s something you accomplish that’s yours,” she said. “No one can ever take that away. It’s just something I always wanted.”
WEAR YOUR COLORS PROUDLY
Going back to school and receiving her online degree later in life isn’t the only thing Wilson has recently accomplished.
She is a cancer survivor. It’s a title she only recently received and something she didn’t reveal at first. She had been battling cancer for about six years before she decided to enroll at Mizzou. She was even undergoing treatments and had a series of flare ups during her first semester as an online student.
“That first semester was a little rough,” she admitted. “I had two surgeries that semester as well. But, once I got past that, I said, ‘Okay I can do this.’”
She didn’t want her tribulation to take over her story. It wasn’t until her father mentioned a series of doctor’s appointments in Kansas, and the rivalry between universities, that she made mention of her battle.
“I don’t want to say going back to school saved my life, but it saved my focus and it was a positive thing during that time,” she said. “It was hard work, but it just took my mind off everything else. I just don’t want it to take over my story.”
Wilson’s scans in early 2023 confirmed she remains cancer free. It’s wonderful news for her and a chance for her doctors to heckle her a bit about her choice of school.
“Her doctor has tormented us rather badly,” Jim said. “He threatened teasingly to call security on me because I was wearing Mizzou colors. What can I say? He’s a University of Kansas grad.”
Before graduation, Wilson started applying to jobs that would better suit her new degree. After only a few interviews, she found an immediate fit with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. She has only been there for a little more than two months, but says she is really enjoying the work and can already see a future with the company. And as for school, she’s not sure she’s done just yet.
“I’m looking into going back,” she said. “I talked to Michelle a little bit in January before the semester started. We’ll see.”
Meanwhile, the father-daughter duo is already talking about their next trip to campus – either for a football game or to meet up with Jim’s classmates again. Until then, they’ll stay in their home state of Kansas and continue to wear their black and gold wherever they go.
“Hey, wear your colors proudly, kid. I mean it,” Jim Wilson said. “We’ve always lived in Kansas and get heck from a lot of people about wearing the wrong colors. May the border wars continue forever.”