At 16-years-old, the furthest thing from Tom Grice’s mind was attending college. He walked into the GED center near his hometown in Illinois, took the test and passed with flying colors. It was only after testing that the center staff asked for identification. Upon learning his age, they were reluctant to present him with a general education certificate; but he had passed, and he insisted that they give him one.
Years later, with four children and one more on the way, Grice was faced with a dilemma. He had been working for Ministry Health Care since 2004 and had been asked to earn a bachelor’s degree in order to take on a larger role within the company.
For two years he had managed the facilities department at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston, Wis. With recent reorganization at Good Samaritan Hospital in Merrill, Wis., Grice was asked to act as a consultant for both hospitals, which are owned by Ministry Health Care.
As Grice sought a college program that would fit his needs and his family’s schedule, he looked hard at Upper Iowa University’s Wausau Center, which was just 60 miles from his home in Shawano, Wis. “Upper Iowa was a good fit for my family and me,” said Grice. “The course schedule was very convenient.”
Grice was worried when he registered for classes that Upper Iowa would not accept him. “I had no transcripts. I hadn’t taken the ACT,” he said. “But, still, they were very helpful and took me in hand immediately to make sure I got the courses I needed to complete my bachelor’s degree in business.”
Grice worked full-time directing the facilities operations at Saint Clare’s and Good Samaritan hospitals during the day, and two nights a week he attended classes for four-and-a-half hours each night. During the first year of his college career, Grice and his wife Jill welcomed their fifth child, Cali. UIU’s online course schedule helped Grice stay on track as his family worked through Cali’s health issues.
Grice acknowledges that balancing family, school and work was challenging, but he stuck to his plan knowing that once he graduated good things would happen for him and his family. He also wanted to be a good role-model for his two eldest children, daughters Ashley, 22, and Jami, 17. Ashley is currently enrolled in college and Jami is headed to college in the fall. Sons Michael, 15, and Marcus, 12, will also be looking to their father and the great things he has accomplished with his college education through hard work.
When he first started as a student at Upper Iowa, Grice said he struggled with writing. “I just didn’t have the skills I needed to write properly,” he said. “It was something that I didn’t spend a lot of time on when I was in high school because I didn’t think I would ever need it.” Throughout his college career, Grice said he’s noticed changes within himself and others have commented, too, on his ease with communication and how it has been enhanced with his education at Upper Iowa. He said he likes to reread some of the paragraphs and writing exercises that he did for classes at the start of college and compare them to what he is capable of doing now.
During his last year at Upper Iowa, Grice used his senior project course to work with Ministry Health Care’s vice president Rachel Yaron as his project sponsor. The project helped him develop a plan for blending the services of the hospitals while providing patients with quality care.
As a result, he not only transformed operations between Saint Clare’s and Good Samaritan, but earned a promotion as well. He was named overall director of both hospitals on the evening he presented his project to his UIU classmates.
Grice’s senior project identified duplicate services and potential inconsistencies in standards that could be resolved by one hospital providing some specialist services to the other. As a result, Ministry Health Care saw a savings of more than $750,000.
His attention to detail both in and out of the classroom has been noticed. Wausau Center director Sarah Koepke said, “Tom is extremely professional and self-directed. He asks great questions and has far exceeded our expectations at Upper Iowa.”
Grice is the first Wausau Center student to have developed an experiential learning portfolio integrating his work and life experiences. It was so well done that Koepke keeps a copy of it on her shelf to show students what they can do to earn credit through Upper Iowa’s experiential learning portfolio program.
Grice attributes his positive college experience at Upper Iowa to his UIU instructors. “They took the time to explain the course material and made it so that when it was time for class to be over, you wanted to stay and learn more,” he said. “I really like their teaching methods. It was more like a peer-to-peer relationship.”