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Dani Gao, Accounting student from Washington Island

Dani Gao

Accounting student

Flexible and affordable classes through NWTC Sturgeon Bay enable Washington Island resident to return to college

Going back to college at nearly 40 years old is not an easy decision. Take it from Dani Gao, a student in NWTC’s Accounting program and resident of Washington Island.

When her husband inherited a plumbing business on the island five years ago, Gao taught herself QuickBooks to do the bookkeeping. As the business grew, so did the need for Gao to advance her bookkeeping skills.

“I hesitated to start learning through NWTC,” she said. “I worried I might not like it – or worse, that I might fail. I don’t want to put my family into debt for an additional degree at this age.”

Putting her fears aside, Gao decided to go for it. After all, with NWTC’s affordable and flexible classes, going back to school felt less risky. It also helped that her husband loved his own NWTC experience as a plumbing apprentice.

Connecting to campus

Gao is now in her second semester of her first year at NWTC and on track to graduate in May 2025. Because the College’s closest campus is an hour drive and 30 minute ferry ride away in Sturgeon Bay, Gao takes all of her classes online. Yet she still feels connected to NWTC.

“When I learn online and don't live on campus, it could be easy to feel isolated, but NWTC provides many ways of keeping me engaged. I don't feel I am alone,” she said.

Right from her start at NWTC, Gao experienced the friendly support and helpful services of the Sturgeon Bay campus. Her first point of contact was Amy Mollberg. In her role, Mollberg provides students with information, guidance, and support as they begin their academic journey at NWTC. She helps them understand the application process, paying for college, and all of the available student resources.

While most of the communication between Mollberg and Gao was through email, the two established a connection. “It was an absolute pleasure to work with Dani on her academic pathway,” Mollberg said. “She will do amazing things.”

Academic advising is another important resource at the Sturgeon Bay campus. “Dani and I worked together to build and plan a class schedule that is manageable and realistic for her as she balances the roles of being a mom, wife, employee, and student simultaneously,” said Ashley Sevcik, academic advisor. “ Her commitment to learning and her ability to adapt and make it all happen are inspiring.”

Read more about Gao’s experience, including how this working mom of two fits learning into her busy life, in the Q & A below.

Q & A with Dani Gao

Why did you choose to go into accounting for your career field?
My husband inherited a plumbing business five years ago on Washington Island. There wasn't anyone doing bookkeeping work locally, so I started doing that for him. I taught myself QuickBooks. As his business has grown, I've needed to keep improving my bookkeeping skill. Now that my daughter is four years old, she goes to school for three hours every day. Now I have time for my studies. 

What are your hopes and goals for the future?
After I graduate, I hope to use my degree to work remotely for an accounting firm. This will allow me to stay with my family in the place I love.

Why did you choose NWTC for your education?
My husband was enrolled in NWTC as a plumbing apprentice for four years. He loved his program. NWTC offers the Accounting program fully online, so it fits perfectly for me. I don't need to move off the island or leave my family for my study.

What has surprised you about your NWTC experience?
NWTC accepted some of my coursework from my Chinese bachelor's degree in China, which made my application easier. I've felt that there is a whole team to help me all the time. My academic advisor helped me pick my classes and provided suggestions. My instructors always reply to my emails and keep encouraging me. When I feel overwhelmed, there is even a mental health counselor I can talk to. When I learn online and don't live on campus, it could be easy to feel isolated, but NWTC provides many ways of keeping me engaged. I don't feel I am alone. 

How do you fit college/learning into your life?
Thanks to online learning, I can make my own schedule. I can study every morning from 8 till 11. Sometimes my daughter even lets me do one or two extra hours of homework during the day. After the kids go to bed at night, I can spend another two or three hours studying. Recently, we took a trip to Disney World. NWTC provides smart phone reading technology so I could read my textbook on the flight even without any Wi-Fi or data. A flexible schedule helps me balance study, work, and life.

If you had to tell potential NWTC students why they should pursue their education NWTC, what would you tell them?
NWTC makes learning accessible and affordable. Going back to college when I am almost 40 years old has not been an easy decision. I don't want to put my family into debt for an additional degree at this age. I hesitated to start learning through NWTC, worried I might not like it or worse, that I might fail. NWTC provides credits at reasonable prices making me not afraid of trying. It also divides each semester into two eight weeks sessions, so each course is manageable. NWTC also makes learning fit into my personal schedule. Lots of my classmates already have full time jobs. We attend class at night, doing homework and taking tests at night too. There are many class options to fit different schedules. 

I feel that NWTC cares about me and my success.

Check out all of the programs and services available through NWTC Sturgeon Bay.

Learn more about the Accounting associate degree program.

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