"Don't listen to anyone that says you can't do it," said Gogebic Community College student Melissa Baldwin, of Ironwood.
She's been told she "can't" again and again, but has defied that statement many times over in her life.
Baldwin will graduate Friday evening from GCC with an associate of arts degree in criminal justice, with a concentration in corrections. With a cumulative grade point average of 3.84, she is graduating with high honors status.
Baldwin began attending GCC in the fall of 2012, with her husband, Justin, and daughter, Abagail, at home, and holding down almost a full-time job. Prior to college, she worked three jobs to help her family make ends meet.
She attributes her strong work ethic to her mother. "Classes have gone well, but time is always an issue," Baldwin said.
While at GCC, she enjoyed small class sizes, indicating it was easy to get help when necessary.
"My instructors were always very accommodating when personal issues arose, and I couldn't make it to class. I also liked having my main instructor, Carrie Yon, criminal justice faculty member, serve as my advisor, as she was readily accessible."
Baldwin felt comfortable in her classes having an even distribution of males and females, and also being with other non-traditional-aged students.
"Melissa has a quiet determination to take on challenging situations from the very beginning and not back down until the work is done," Yon said. "She is not afraid to work hard, and she is a strong finisher. She is determined to move forward in her life, school, and now that she has completed her degree, a career. She is focused, organized, level-headed with her opinions, and dependable with her work. And sprinkle in a lot of good humor. She really has been an enjoyable student to work with. She will be a great asset to her future employer in the criminal justice field."
Baldwin also worked with Miranda Lawver, Veterans' Certifying Official, who helped her obtain the G.I. Bill through veterans benefits. In addition, she received a Pell grant. Together, the help paid for 60 percent of her tuition and fees. "Without this, it would not have been possible for me to attend college," she said.
Lawver was impressed with Baldwin's progress.
"It has been a pleasure to work with Melissa the past two years and see her do well at GCC. Her stellar academic record and graduating on time is a true reflection of her hard work, dedication, pro-activeness and determination," Lawver said. "Melissa has juggled many things during her tenure here and still managed to be on the dean's list every semester. I am extremely proud of her accomplishments and excited for the amazing things that lie ahead of her."
Although Baldwin is a true success story, it wasn't always easy. She grew up in Bowler, Wis ., and later moved to Watersmeet with her mom and three younger siblings. Her mother, a single parent, worked all the time to support her family and make ends meet. To help out, Baldwin dropped out of school in the fifth grade and was home-schooled. That didn't work out as planned, as she wasn't disciplined enough to complete the homework.
At the age of 15, she went back to school in the 10th grade and was failing math, specifically algebra. She dropped out of school again. At 17, she began taking high school equivalency classes in Watersmeet and took her final test for her General Educational Development on her 18th birthday, passing.
She moved to Ironwood for about six months before deciding to join the military. In 2000, she joined the U.S. Army Reserves and is still active. When asked why she chose the military or Reserves, she laughed and said, "Because I always wanted to be a sniper."
Baldwin attends Army Reserve training sessions once a month, and a three-week session each summer. In 2005, she went on inactive ready reserve status to give birth to Abagail.
Her plan is to obtain a position as a prison guard and work her way up. She considers herself lucky to have overcome the obstacles that arose and get to where she is today.
Kim Zeckovich is Director of Admissions, Marketing and Community Relations at Gogebic Community College.