Despite growing up in Greenville, Furman wasn’t an option for Stephanie Wactor ’11. Twice.
She didn’t consider the university out of high school because she wanted to get away from home, and a few years later, more mature and focused on her education, Wactor didn’t consider Furman because she had no idea she’d still be welcome as an adult in search of an undergraduate degree. Her boss, Paul Batson of Batson Accounting & Tax, had a pretty good idea she would be, however—largely because of his other gig as an adjunct professor in Furman’s undergraduate evening studies (UES) program.
“He really encouraged me to look at Furman, and I had never even considered it. I didn’t even know it had an evening program,” Wactor said. “I always knew that it was a good school, but I just didn’t think that it would have been an option. But he was very persuasive.”
Then known as Stephanie Lockwood, Wactor attended College of Charleston after high school but left after two years, early into a communications major she realized was a mistake. Her father was an accountant, and after initially rejecting following in his footsteps she decided it might not be such a bad idea after all.
The only problem was she needed a degree, which seemed like a daunting task while working full time. Furman offered majors in business administration and accounting, but Wactor still wasn’t sure until a meeting on campus with Brett Barclay, then the director of UES, eased her mind.
“Brett really sold the program to me and made me feel comfortable knowing I was going to be able to manage it,” she said. “From the first couple of classes I had, I knew it was something different.”
Founded in 1957, UES boasts it can “accelerate your career without interrupting it,” and a key component of living up to that promise is tailoring the education toward students who have achieved grown-up status in more ways than minimum voting age. Classes are offered at two locations, and to be eligible for admission applicants must have at least three years of full-time work experience on their resumes.
That creates the intended environment, according to current UES director Beth Crews.
“It’s good to have other working adults in the classroom,” she said. “Other schools in the area throw 18-year-olds and working adults together, and we find that the quality of the classroom discussions (is) very, very markedly different with an 18-year-old without real-world experience and an adult.”
The students aren’t the only working adults in the room, either. The same holds true for the instructors, which Wactor appreciated.
“They all had real-life experience. They were just like my boss,” she said. “They did what they were teaching during the day, and they really brought something different to the table. It was really invaluable to get that mix of the textbook learning but then how it actually applies in a job, because that seems to be a big disconnect for a lot of people. You can learn it and you can do well on the test, but when you try apply some of that in the real world it doesn’t always apply so straightforward.”
Wactor admits that the idea of finishing her degree seemed overwhelming at first. Working in an accounting office, spring was an especially difficult time as tax season kept her in the office for 50 to 60 hours per week, and while she carried a fair number of credits into Furman they only satisfied elective requirements.
“I remember the first time I sat down . . . and filled out my worksheet, I thought ‘this will take forever.’ And by the end of it I was like, ‘I can’t believe that it’s over,’” she said. “The hardest part is filling out your application and choosing classes. But once that’s done, you just keep rolling.”
Wactor took a pair of courses in the summer and fall semesters and one in the spring. Classes were two nights a week, from 6 to 8:45 p.m., and she finished in four years, earning a degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting in May of 2011.
Now she’s the chief financial officer at Carrell Insurance Group in Spartanburg, S.C., which marks the latest step in a rapid climb up her career ladder once her diploma was in hand. “If it wasn’t for the last couple of semesters at Furman and the classes that I took and the wonderful professors I had, I would not have been prepared for what a jump and what a difference it is in what you do day to day,” Wactor, who has been in her current position for nearly three years, said of her promotion. “I can attribute any success that I’ve had here to what I’ve learned there. I was brought in mainly for the accounting knowledge, and it’s really evolved over the last two and a half years.”
Wactors’s husband, Andrew, is on track to graduate from Furman next semester, and he may not be the last person who gives Furman adult evening studies a try because of Wactor’s encouragement.
“I tell everybody I know . . . I’m all in supporting the program and supporting people to go,” she said. “I’ve been through a couple of other non-traditional programs, and it would have been very easy to just say I don’t really think this is for me. But everything about Furman’s program is very encouraging and it’s meant to keep people in the right path.”
Learn more about Undergraduate Evening Studies.