Hard to Admit Academic Failures- Here Is Mine

The original post which inspired myself and others to respond: https://ozar.me/2017/06/i-failed-13-college-courses/

And now, an expanded version of my response.

My academic career began in the mid-70’s. Some of my earliest memories of TV reporters were of Walter Cronkite wearing his horn-rimmed glasses and talking about the Vietnam War.

At that time, the Space Race had become routine too. It seemed like nobody cared about the relative and regular miracle of access to space. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut/scientist. But I had a fear of Math.

My dad was an engineer at the time so I grew up watching him explain things in terms that I could understand and building stuff together.

An aside, my grandfather (his dad) was the coolest person I knew. Grandpa had a Caterpillar D4 bulldozer, ’56 Ford Dump truck, machine shop (I love the smell of a machine shop to this day), welding equipment, other tools & equipment and a host of semi-finished/unfinished projects.

He had the largest hands of a human you had ever seen. He dropped out of school in the 8th grade and had to start working to support his family. With his hands.

Even to this day I will never forget his immortal words, “Todd, once you get your smarts, no one can take them away from you.”

Grandpa and Grandma (and my dad and his sister too) grew up from folks who faced the Great Depression, also known as The Greatest Generation.

For this post, I just want to focus on some of my academic exploits. But I also want folks to have some kind of context of who I am and where I came from.

I was identified as gifted and talented (GT) I think in the 4th grade. I took my first in-person IQ test at that time. This guy had a stopwatch and he asked all kinds of questions. I did the best that I could.

I got into a GT program at a public school at that time. It was intense, lots of experiences and lots of reading.

Later we had to move and that kind of threw a wrench into things. By the time I reached high school (HS), I was still really smart but had NO study skills.

So I coasted through HS and graduated with Honors. I remember but don’t have a picture handy of my 18th birthday cake. It actually said “UT or Bust”.

Went to UT at Austin… Then the wheels feel off. I partied too much. And it cost me dearly. Sometime I will get my transcript from that time but I got a few F’s that first semester.

Second semester, I was really in bad shape. And then even more bad news. During Spring Break, I went back home and my parents and I had decided that college was becoming a huge waste of money and I was not doing what I needed to be doing.

So I needed to drop all of my classes. UNFORTUNATELY!!! The last day to drop classes w/o a GPA hit was the day BEFORE Spring Break. So I went into the office, begged and pleaded but was told their hands were tied.

I was going to get 5 F’s for that semester. If any of you want to compute your freshman cumulative GPA for 5 courses with 0.0 for a semester, go ahead.

I was mentally crushed. There was no hope for me to EVER return back to college with that milestone around my neck. I had let down my parents, myself, and all hopes and dreams of being the first grandkid to get a college degree.

My grandparents were disappointed with me. Not one of their grandkids had ever gone to a major college and here I was, their first best chance, and I blew it.

After my health began to slowly return, I applied for whatever jobs I could do. I began pumping gas at a full-service gas station. Remember full-service gas stations??? Yes, I’m old.

My habits were hard to shake off and I fell into a group of “friends” who loved to party too. I got fired from that job. Shortly thereafter I began working at Discount Tire.

Let me say this- I LOVE Discount Tire. I love the smell of tires. It is the smell of money and of hard, back-breaking work. So I began my blue-collar career in earnest.

After a while, I began to put 2 + 2 together. I knew some folks in the late 80’s making over $150k/year managing a high-traffic store. But if one got stuck with a low-volume store as a store manager, well then you just had to deal with it.

Anyway, I started going to church again and taking college classes at night. I hated taking classes after work. I smelled like a tire with a fresh coat of Right Guard and colonge. So embarassed.

Started to get some good grades and decided I didn’t want to change tires the rest of my life. So I talked to Mom and Dad about moving back in (I had moved out a while ago into my own apartment) and wanted to go back to school full-time and finish what I had started.

“As long as there is no partying. And if you get any bad grades? You’re done and you are out of here. Understand?”, “Yes Sir!”

So with a chip on my shoulder, I moved from Plano back to Houston and went to the Admissions Office at the University of Houston (UH). Now, understand when I was in High School, folks would kinda look down on UH as “that” school you could ALWAYS go to if one couldn’t get into a better school.

The admissions counselor pulled up my transcript from UT and Richardson (in Dallas) and gave me the grim news. “I’m sorry Mr. Kleinhans, but you do not meet the minimum requirement for admission to UH.”

I’m like, “WHAT??? That UT thing was FIVE years ago! I’ve grown up and I know and respect the value of time and money!”

“The numbers are the numbers. You can take some classes at Houston Community College (HCC) and pull up your GPA. Once you can do that, we’ll talk again. In about 1.5 years if things go well for you.”

I quit my full-time, decent paying job and moved back in with Mom and Dad for this??? I sucked in my pride, picked up my chip, and started the slow climb out of GPA Hell.

Good news was that I was able to continue working for a local Discount Tire store so I changed tires all through school and paid my way through.

Went to HCC for 1.5 years (where I did great at Math. What is fear? False Evidence Appearing Real) and then applied and got accepted to UH. I was so excited! Sad news- my Grandfather died during my first semester at UH. I was devastated. For a few weeks, I was unable to think straight. His death hit me really hard.

During all of this I had met my future wife and without her I don’t think I could have made it. She is STILL my best friend and the only reason I didn’t just drop out from school and stick with something I knew- grind away changing tires.

Finally got a BBA in Marketing from UH. I just wish I didn’t have a nagging fear of math as that prevented me from enrolling in any computer science classes. Dumb on my part.

Got married, bounced around a few jobs, moved to Colorado, bought a house, started a family, joined the U.S. Navy Reserve when I turned 30, and began working on a Master’s degree. Finally finished in 2003 with a Masters of Information Systems from the University of Colorado at Denver (dang, that’s a lot of words 🙂 and that story is another tale of trials and tribulations).

And here we are today! I am now looking to transitioning from being a database adminstrator to a data scientist. Wiser and WAY more mature now and I have no fear of math anymore 🙂

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