The saying goes that if you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.
University of Findlay alumna Nicole (Lahey) Gerten knows about obstacles and wants to make sure she helps other Oilers who might find themselves up against them when pursuing their own higher education.
Gerten’s life was as “normal,” by all intents and purposes, as everyone else’s growing up in northwest Ohio. She was brought up in Findlay, thus finding comfort within its boundaries. That comfort played a part in her decision to enroll at the University as a high school graduate back in 2008, and, once she was on campus, the familiar feeling of “home” became immediately known to her. “I was happy with my decision to go to UF,” she said. “I liked everything about it, really.” At that time, she was interested in the nuclear medicine program and had plans of finding success on that path.
Then, one of those obstacles came. This particular hurdle, however, would be more aptly called an eventual blessing for Gerten, as she learned that she was pregnant in her second year of college. She chose what she knew would be the best plan for her at that time, and decided to leave the University to focus on having and raising her baby boy. Clearly, it was an uncertain time, not without anxiety. “I wasn’t even sure what I would do,” she said. “It’s a little intimidating to actually say that you’ve dropped out of college.”
But time, as it always does, marched on for Nicole, and before she could blink, her “baby” was two-years old. That’s about the time she realized that she couldn’t live a life without aspirations to better her future and that of her toddler son. After a conversation with a friend she hadn’t seen in many years, she realized what she had to do–get back in school. “I knew from that conversation that I had to do what was needed to get back in,” she recalled. “So, I started the process.”
The process, as it turns out, was one that she remembers fondly as being “phenomenal.” She contacted the bachelor’s degree completion program at UF, and decided to resume her education online through UF, switching majors to business management. That decision, she said, was tough, but one that was made much easier by the schedule she was able to keep within the program. “It was a little difficult returning as a single mother,” she said, “but the degree completion program helped tremendously. As a parent working full-time, the flexibility of being able to do assignments online when I could fit them in was incredible. They even regularly called and checked in with me. It was phenomenal.”
Now, as an alumna with a career at Marathon Petroleum in Findlay, Gerten has been married since 2016, and has added two more little boys to her family. Having a one-year old, a two and a half-year old, and a, now, eight-year old, she said, makes things “extremely busy,” but also regularly reminds her of how fortunate she is to be at this stage of her life. It’s a reminder that serves a greater purpose, however, as Gerten has made it a point to regularly give back to the University that helped to afford her the life she currently enjoys.
Gerten was recently named the recipient of the Generation Orange Loyalty Trendsetter Award for five years of consecutive giving as a member of Generation Orange (graduates of UF up to 35 years of age). She said that harkening back to her struggles as a non-traditional student always serves to put things into perspective. “I may not yet be able to donate a lot, but it’s so important to give back and help others,” she explained. “I was struggling and trying to make a better life for myself and my son, and I know what it’s like to need a hand. To me, it’s a simple ‘Why not?’”
Gerten offered some advice to those who might be struggling in life, both academically and more generally. “Everyone has their own timeframes in life,” she said. “If you need to better your life, you have to do what it takes. For me it was just making a brighter future for me and my children by going back to UF.”
Another bygone quote proposes that challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. With the help of generous hearts like Nicole Gerten, future Oiler alumni can have that meaningful life and productive career, regardless of the barriers they might meet along the way.