Yara Grieder likes to keep busy: she’s a community volunteer, an enthusiastic mom, and a positive presence at work. It’s an admirable quality to be sure, but that inclination to participate can also be a challenge to keep up, especially if you happen to be a first-generation college student earning your bachelor’s degree, on top of everything else.
But Grieder has another quality: determination. When it came to her education—gaining her bachelor’s in Multidisciplinary Studies from the College of Continuing Education—she used a combination of those two qualities to ensure academic and professional success.
After graduating from high school, Grieder joined the US Air Force. For four years she traveled around the country, in stations like Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia, and served as an air transportation specialist. Her duties included loading and unloading cargo and passenger planes.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Grieder says. “I met many different people from all over the world.”
Not only did her service in the Air Force give her a great experience, but it also opened her eyes to the importance of volunteering as part of a community. Additionally, it granted her the GI Bill, a benefit designed to help service members cover the costs associated with getting an education.
“When I was living in Texas, I realized I needed to go to school to better my life and the lives of my kids,” she says.
Even after taking just a few courses at a community college, Grieder was overwhelmed by the power of education to open doors for change and opportunity. Her impulse was to spread the word and help others realize their dreams by going to school. “I did help quite a few people get enrolled in school, and that was one of the best feelings,” she says. “To see someone else succeed is absolutely rewarding.”
Transition to Minnesota
In 2011, Grieder moved her family to Minnesota to be closer to the rest of her extended family and return to school for her bachelor’s degree. Serendipity stepped in when Grieder met her soon-to-be adviser, Karolyn Redoute, at a meet-and-greet event. Redoute told Grieder about the Multidisciplinary Studies (MdS) degree at the U of M’s College of Continuing Education, explaining that this individualized degree could be customized to fit the student’s unique interests and goals.
"The MdS program has been all about options. I never felt limited about what I could do with my education. The courses always seemed to make sense with everything I wanted for my life.”
“I knew I wanted to study something pertaining to entrepreneurship and small business, but I was unsure about a specific course of study,” she says. “I spoke more with Karolyn and she helped me understand that I didn’t have to pick just one thing to focus on. That’s what made the MdS program such a great fit for me.”
Grieder chose three areas of concentration for her degree: Communication; Applied, Technical and Professional; and History and Social Sciences. She admits that writing her proposal was difficult, but “by the time it was complete I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. It was a good feeling to know how far I needed to go in order to achieve my goals.”
Determination to Graduate
The years it took for Grieder to earn her MdS degree were not easy. As a single mother who was working full time as a Plan Coordinator Consultant for Aetna, she admits that little things like finding time to make dinner proved to be an obstacle. But Grieder says, “My kids can appreciate why it has been important to study and go to class. They know I try my hardest.”
And now she can say that her determination paid off. Grieder graduated with her MdS degree in the fall of 2016. She has already seen results from pursuing the degree. She’s been offered more responsibility at work, which wouldn’t have been available had she not chosen her areas of concentration within her MdS degree. Besides these opportunities, she feels a sense of possibility and profound accomplishment.
“Now that I’ve graduated, I’d like to use my degree for my next goal: to start a nonprofit organization to help others go to school, too,” she says. “I want to help those less fortunate to apply and enroll in higher education because I believe many lower income families are terrified of student loan debt. I want to show them how to apply for grants and scholarships.”
Grieder herself has experienced the benefit of financial aid through scholarship. She is a recipient of the Osher Reentry Scholarship.
She advises anyone who is considering college but has put it off for some reasons, to know that it’s never too late. “The students in the MdS program need to have faith in themselves,” Grieder says. “A lot of times, I found myself being critical about why I was going back to school, but the MdS program has been all about options. I never felt limited about what I could do with my education. The courses always seemed to make sense with everything I wanted for my life. Now that I’ve graduated, it feels liberating.”