Back in the Classroom

Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón
Janet Bracken at commencement in cap and gown regalia
Janet Bracken ('14)

Janet Bracken ('14) hadn't been in a classroom for 30 years when she entered her ethics class.

"I was scared to death walking into that class, but it melted away in five minutes," says Bracken, who like many B.A.A.S. graduates was a nontraditional student who wanted to obtain her college degree.

Bracken had spent much of her marriage participating in UNT alumni events with her husband Frank ('63). The two frequently attended football games and even chaired a four-year capital campaign.

"One day I told Frank, 'I want to go back to school,'" says Bracken. "We were surrounded by people who had a degree from UNT. I wanted to get my UNT degree, too."

Bracken had earned an associate degree at North Lake College in her hometown of Irving, then went on to a long career as an executive assistant. She served as program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters in Dallas until she retired in 2010.

Marilyn Wiley, dean of the College of Business, suggested she try the B.A.A.S. program. Every credit from North Lake transferred. Counselors also credited some of her nonprofit experience and created an independent study course for her.

"I felt like I got personal attention," Bracken says.

Like other B.A.A.S. students, she took three core courses. The Pathways to Civic Engagement course helps students reflect on their own role as members of society by looking at complex social issues that influence them and their communities. Bracken was the mayor of a fictional town and had to learn how to deal with people and situations that would arise. In the Fundamentals of Inquiry and Discovery course, she learned to ask questions and approach statistics and research, and the Managing a 21st Century Career course helped guide her to bridge the gap between where she was when she started back to school and where she hoped to be one day.

She says the degree, with concentrations in fundraising, volunteer management and a specially designed course for her called "How to Build a Non-Profit Board," helped her with her volunteerism. She serves on the Dallas County regional board of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star Texas and on advisory boards for the Presbyterian Communities and Services Foundation and the UNT College of Business.

"My classes taught me how to run a nonprofit, fundraise, build and lead a board, put together materials and find the right volunteers," she says adding that she's been able to advise friends about the rules and regulations of starting a nonprofit organization.

All of Bracken's hard work culminated with a graduation ceremony at the Super Pit. Her 86-year-old mother, now deceased, was there. Her husband, Frank, said she never stopped smiling. The B.A.A.S. teachers received hugs from their students. She graduated cum laude.

"It was one of the best days of my life," she says.

And now she is helping others pursue their own college dreams.

As part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Bracken currently advises an undocumented Irving High School student in navigating the college admissions process. Her protégé will go to North Lake for two years before transferring to UNT. Bracken attended her high school graduation in May.

"I'm so incredibly blessed -- I wanted others who didn't have an opportunity to have a mentor," Bracken says. "It is the best feeling in the world to know I'm helping her achieve her dream."

Read a feature story on Degree in Perseverance.

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