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Helen Schmitz: From Math Anxiety to Statistics Tutor and Beyond

Winona Daily News, May 12, 2021

Helen SchmitzHelen Schmitz remembers the exact moment she decided to go back to college. 

"It was the last Sunday in July of 2018. I literally woke up that morning and thought, I want to go back to school. I knew there had to be some kind of program for me at Southeast," she said. 

She graduated from Minnesota State College Southeast in 1996 with an associate degree in legal secretary, worked for the Social Security Administration, and raised a family of seven.  

Helen's ultimate goal was to go to law school, but she didn't feel ready to go straight to a 4-year university. "I loved it when I went to Southeast before, so I automatically went to the college website, found the Criminal Justice program, and applied." 

From her very first day at Minnesota State College Southeast in Fall 2018, she felt comfortable. "When I came in for orientation, it was like I had never left! All the staff, all the teachers, everybody was welcoming, I just felt like I belonged there." 

Returning to college as an adult -- while being responsible for a household including a disabled adult daughter, a 12-year-old son, and a 6-year-old granddaughter -- did not intimidate her as much as the prospect of having to take math classes.

"I even doubted I could go back to school because of math!" Helen said. "Out of all the classes, I struggled with having to take it because I've never been good at it."

But that was before she met MSC Southeast math instructor Alice Zimmer. "When I started pre-college math, Alice completely put me at ease. After the very first class, I knew I was going to be OK."

Helen said that Alice is her hero. "She made such a positive change in my life because I look up to her. She loves what she does and you can see it in her. She's smart, she's sweet, she's strong. And she's so patient -- she'd work with me on whatever I was confused about until I understood."

With Alice Zimmer's support, Helen continued to advance through her math requirements - all the way from pre-college math to Statistics. In fact, she did very well in all of her courses at Southeast, earning straight A's in all but one class. 

While in college, Helen had a work-study position in The Roost, the college's learning resource center. Last fall, when Academic Success Coordinator Kate Parsi reached out to Alice Zimmer to suggest a tutor for statistics students, the first person Alice mentioned was Helen.

"It was an amazing experience to be able to help someone learn," Helen recalled. "I didn't tutor a lot of people, but I made great friends and I worked hard with them."

Kate Parsi said, "Tutoring was more than a 'job' for Helen, it was a way of paying it forward. She truly found joy in others' successes and valued the time she spent with the students she served."

Though she's considered a member of the class of 2021, Helen actually graduated from MSC Southeast at the end of Fall Semester 2020 with an associate of applied science degree in Criminal Justice. She has already moved on to the next stage in her education, having transferred to Winona State University's Legal Studies program for a bachelor's degree. 

"I am most proud that my kids are seeing me do something do something with my life - seeing me focus and fight and grow myself. I've studied hard and I worked to get the best possible grades I could get, so that I could achieve my dream," said Helen. "I want my kids to see that if I can do this, they can do anything." 

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