It took 16 years, but Highland resident has persevered to graduate

Kathleen Brzezinski has found the proverbial ‘silver lining’ that seemed elusive to her for many years.

After she graduates from Purdue University Calumet Sunday (5/20), the 34-year-old Highland resident, wife and mother of three will begin a new chapter in her life as a software engineer for international communications and information technology firm Harris Corporation of Melbourne, Fla.

But the path to this point in her life didn’t follow the traditional way of securing a university education, as she experienced her share of adversities since first enrolling in 1996.

“I had been at the (Purdue) West Lafayette campus working toward a chemical engineering degree for two years when my father died, and so I moved back to Whiting,” Brzezinski said. “It would be another year before I was back in school, but this time it was at Purdue Calumet.”

Kathleen Brzezinski

In addition to changing schools, she changed her major to computing. “I found I preferred working with computers, and I knew the majority of my credits would transfer,” she said.

She had attended Purdue Calumet for a year when she again had to put her educational plans on hold.

During this hiatus, she remarried and son David and daughter Madison were born. Then her husband, Chris, experienced some health concerns, prompting her to get a job outside the home. Though acknowledging she never doubted she would return to school to earn her degree, “my only question was when that would be,” she said.

She resumed her studies in 2008 as a computer science major.

“My husband was back to work, and the kids were old enough; it was time to finish my education,” she said with a laugh. “I love (Purdue Calumet); it’s more personal here. I enjoy the feel of the campus. At bigger schools, you can feel lost.”

Smaller class sizes, as well as the availability of caring professors and staff also put her at ease, she said. Specifically, she praised her academic advisor, Bill Baginski, and campus technology infrastructure senior server Rudy Cruz, whom Brzezinski credited for mentoring her during her experiential learning activity of writing Information Systems-related programs.

She also has benefited from an internship and part-time job at J.P. Morgan in Chicago and plans to continue her education to earn an MBA.

“When I first became acquainted with Kathleen, I noticed right away that she was very good at what she was doing, “Cruz said. “As time went on, she would pick up on issues others may not have seen. Through her efforts of being detail-oriented and a team player, she helped to greatly improve our processes and procedures.”

Baginski also became impressed with her persistence in pursuing her degree.

“Upon her return to Purdue Calumet, Kathleen has proven that students with families and multiple other responsibilities can succeed in their field of study,” he said, “and they can, in fact, complete the goals they may have established years before.”