Cardinal Stritch University

Completing the Transfer Trail

Despite Life-Threatening Auto Accident and Lupus, Stacey Kozel Finishes Her Bachelor’s Degree - In 2016, Stacey Kozel became a national story when she hiked the entire 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail despite being partially paralyzed in both legs. However, the trail she took to complete her bachelor’s degree may have been even longer. After transferring three separate times over a 16 year period, the 42-year-old eventually received her Bachelor of Applied Science degree from Siena Heights University in May 2015.

“It just feels like I’ve been trying to fight for my education for so many years,” Kozel said.

Suffering from lupus – an inflammatory autoimmune disease – most of her adult life, Kozel has been in and out of hospitals as she’s dealt with the symptoms of her disease. In her first semester after enrolling in SHU’s Online Program, she was also involved in a life-threatening car accident. However, even that did not deter her from completing her goal.

“It was one of the best feelings to actually complete my degree,” she said. “It was just the beginning of my life falling into place.”

Here are some tips to help those who may be facing challenges in completing a degree:

  • Ask the right questions.
    First, what is your current situation? Are you working full-time? Have a family? When searching for transfer options, look for institutions – and programs – that have a proven history in serving students from your particular background. Do you want to take classes on campus, or do you prefer online? Some colleges and universities offer a combination of both options, depending on the program.
     
  • Find an advisor who can guide you.
    Kozel said her academic advisor helped her navigate through some difficult times, especially after her car accident. She missed some class time and coursework during her hospital stay and recovery, but was able to make up her work. She credited her program’s flexibility – allowing her to take make-up tests the same week as her finals to complete her courses. “It was a miracle that I still got all As!” she said
     
  • Keep going.
    Despite having legitimate reasons for postponing her education, Kozel said she didn’t listen to those who told her to take a break after her accident. “There’s been so many times that I had to drop out of a program or classes because I end up in the hospital,” Kozel said. “Everyone would just tell me that I needed to get some rest. Start again next semester. Start again next year. I’ve been doing that all my life. … I’m never going to get better, so rest isn’t going to help me.”
     
  • Finish what you started.
    For her, Kozel said walking across the stage to receive her degree in radiologic technology was just as significant as completing the Appalachian Trail. “I am hoping through my experiences that it gives people hope to not give up,” she said. “Through all the obstacles, it just made it so much better when I was able to walk across the stage (to receive my degree). It was actually a really big moment to be able to walk, even with those old locking braces, across the stage.”