by Zinta Aistars
He'd been dismissed twice from a neighboring university, and he could list a roster of colleges attended - then abandoned. But this time, he meant business. Richard Gibbs straightened his tie and walked into the admissions office of Kalamazoo College. At 33 years of age, he was about to request admission as a student.
"He had me at hello," Suzanne Lepley, admissions counselor, laughs. "You develop this sense about people ..."
Suzanne went to bat for Richard. True, he had dropped out of schools or schools had dropped him, but she sensed it was for lack of application, not for lack of smarts. What would be different this time?
"This time I had family support like I've never had it before," Richard says. To start, he was recently wed to Kalamazoo College alumna, Sarah Bingham '00, and his new wife sang the praises of her alma mater. He had two little daughters, Zoe (5) and Sophia (3) and a third on the way, depending on him and looking up to him as a role model. He had left a job as police officer, a position he had held for two years in the rural town of Allegan, just north of Kalamazoo. "All about busting meth labs," Richard says, shaking his head. So he had applied for, and gotten, a position as research associate at MPI Research. He has since been promoted to project leader of lab operations for the contract research company.
"MPI is where I met Sarah," he says, "and reconnected with my interest in science. I used to be interested in forensic science, then switched to economics. I'd finished the police academy, earned an associate's degree at another community college, obtained scholarships to attend university." He shrugs lightly, smiling wide. "Guess I didn't have the discipline back then to make it work. Or the support."
"He gave all the right reasons," Suzanne Lepley recalls Richard's bold entry into the admissions office. "He was honest about his past. Said he wanted his girls to see him graduate. He understood the difference between being a great world-learner and just getting a degree. Richard wanted to learn."
Suzanne spoke to Eric Staab, dean of admissions, about Richard, and they were in agreement: Richard deserved another chance. He would attend one class as a test run.
"I got an A," he grins.
"He aced it," Suzanne sighs happily. "I had no doubt he would. Richard is in his third quarter now, his grade point average is high, and he is still working and taking care of his family."
"I will not disappoint the people who have taken a risk on me.""You know, when my wife first suggested I try Kalamazoo College," Richard says, "I laughed. Why would 'K' take me? A place of such a high academic reputation, the Ivy League of the Midwest, and me a two-time flunky. It can be intimidating. But now that I'm here, my professors know me by name, everyone's been very helpful. My employer is letting me work flextime. As long as I put in my 40 hours, I can leave work whenever I need to attend class. I'm taking two classes per quarter-and I'll admit, it still seems kind of surreal. But I will not disappoint the people who have taken a risk on me."
Older than most fellow students, Richard appreciates the relevance of class subjects. He enjoys discussing economics and applies it to his life as a family man, a working man. He won't be participating in study abroad (his own family roots reach to France, so he travels overseas on occasion) and will do independent study rather than an internship.
"Professor Hannah McKinney has been something of a mentor to me in economics," Richard says. "She's encouraging me to take more challenging classes. She thinks I have a future in management." He flashes that winning grin again. "So that's the plan. It's not if I graduate this time. It's when."