By Doug Carroll
When a beautiful floral arrangement turned up on her desk last week, GCU math instructor Carolyn Wesley performed a simple calculation in her head: Daughter plus Mother’s Day equals flowers.
She was wrong. On closer examination, the thoughtful gesture came from a 57-year-old grandmother in Auburn, Wash., who insists Wesley is the reason she’s still on track for a bachelor’s degree from GCU in about a year and a half.
Ruth Fergerson, an online student majoring in communications, started off well enough in Wesley’s Math 134 class, formally known as Applications of Algebra.
“Then the page turned, and I stopped in my tracks,” Fergerson says. “This is college-level algebra, and it’s not my forté. I thought, ‘I’m too old to be learning this stuff.’”
Wesley wouldn’t hear it.
“I won’t let you fall,” she told Fergerson. “I’ll do what I can to help you.”
Fergerson passed the class, even with some health problems along the way. She says a failing grade might have prompted her to drop out and abandon her goal of a college degree, which she has been pursuing in order to show her seven grandchildren it can be done at any age.
“I never would have gotten through the course without her,” Fergerson says of Wesley, who is part of GCU’s full-time online faculty and teaches from the Peoria office. “She’s an awesome lady. It’s her personality and her caring. She really, really wants to see people succeed.”
Wesley says she was only doing what she should have been doing, coming alongside a struggling student to offer support and encouragement. She spent extra time with Fergerson on the phone and on a virtual whiteboard that allows a student the opportunity to see what she’s writing.
“We work together as if we are face to face,” Wesley says of the whiteboard's benefits. “Students love it.”
Fergerson says her instructor went above and beyond the call of duty.
“There was no way I couldn’t do something special for her, to let her know what it meant to me,” she says, explaining her decision to send the flowers. “That’s the way I was raised: You let people know when they’ve done something extraordinary for you. She just wouldn’t let me give up.”
Fergerson says she wasn’t encouraged as a child to go on to college.
“At one point, I got the ‘Women don’t need to go to college,’” she says. “So I had children, I stayed home, I was a mom and a wife — and it never came up again.”
Although one of her four children has gone to college, Fergerson wants to see a higher percentage among her grandchildren. She figured the example was hers to set — “My inspiration is my grandchildren,” she says — so she took the plunge after being contacted initially by Enrollment Counselor Traci Rusconi.
“I was real hesitant,” Fergerson recalls, although she had indicated an interest online. “A lot of it was fear. Traci and I talked for quite a while about it. I ended up at GCU because of the way Traci handled all of it.”
With Math 134 in the bag, Fergerson vows that she won’t be derailed. After work on her bachelor’s degree is completed, she plans to pursue a master’s in leadership from the Ken Blanchard College of Business.
“I’m staying with GCU,” she says. “They haven’t done me wrong. It’s a good university, and I’m not a ‘normal’ student. Any time I’ve had a down (with school), there’s been an up following it.
“Carolyn ranks at the very top of my list. She took that extra step to try to help me. I made it!”
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].