Home Blog Learning How to Learn: From Regional Undergrad to Master’s Degree Candidate

Learning How to Learn: From Regional Undergrad to Master’s Degree Candidate

April 11, 2024
Kent State University graduate in cap and gown holding degree
Kent State graduate student credits Regional Campus start for putting him on the path to a master’s degree

In high school, Alan Talarczyk thought he wanted to be a diesel mechanic. No one in his family had ever gone to college, and all of them had done well. His father, a tool and die maker, has been with the same manufacturing company for more than 40 years. His mother, a Ukrainian immigrant, started her own successful cleaning business.

His parents provided a comfortable upbringing, and when he considered the future, Talarczyk saw himself in similar circumstances.

“I was like, ‘I don’t need to be a millionaire.’ I always thought that’s what college was for,” he said.

Now a graduate student in Kent State University’s College of Public Health, Talarczyk has learned much about the value of a college education over the past five years, and he credits Kent State for putting him on the road to success.

Kent State prides itself on opening the doors of opportunity for all learners, no matter their starting point.

And Talarczyk was starting close to the bottom.

“I think my GPA was like 1.9,” he recalled, “I wasn’t really interested in what we were learning. I kind of had this rebellious mentality where I was like, ‘You can make money doing anything,’ because growing up my whole family never went to college.”

It wasn’t that he could not learn, and he never failed a class, but he was tardy often and just did the bare minimum.

“I thought my GPA could be OK enough to get into community college, but as I got older, I wanted more for myself,” he said.

What really weighed on his mind were his parents. His mother was a refugee, who came to the U.S. to find a better life. His father, whose parents were Polish immigrants, was orphaned young and had to work to support himself from an early age.

“I guess I felt like my mom didn’t become a refugee, denounce her citizenship and come to America for me to be a mechanic,” he said. “I wanted to make my parents proud. Not that being a mechanic wouldn’t make them proud, but I just felt like I had the potential to do more.”

In high school, he had been funneled into a program that trained students for future careers in skilled trades, so he was going to school half a day and working at an instant oil change business the other half.

He was not at the oil change business long when he decided that he had made a mistake, but by then it was already late in his senior year at Buckeye High School in Medina County, Ohio, and Talarczyk had done nothing to prepare.

Around March of that year, 2019, Talarczyk decided to apply to college.

First, he applied to a state university in Cleveland and was rejected. He applied two more times, and finally received a call from someone in the admissions office, telling him to stop applying.

“He was just very blunt with me, he was like, ‘Bro, you’re not getting in,’” Talarczyk recalled, noting how he had been under the mistaken impression that state schools had to accept anyone if they could pay.

That’s when a friend, who was studying for his doctorate at Kent State, suggested he apply there.

When Kent State admissions called, they did not tell Talarczyk no. Instead, Talarczyk learned that he would have to start in the deferral program at one of Kent’s Regional Campuses and after catching up a bit, could transfer to the Kent Campus to further his studies.

Alan T. in cap and gown with parents celebrating his graduation

“When I told my mom I got into college, she was ecstatic,” he said.

He began his studies in Fall Semester 2019 at the Twinsburg Academic Center.

Sanhita Gupta
Sanhita Gupta

That’s where he met many caring and helpful faculty and staff, including Sanhita Gupta, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, to whom he gives major credit for his success. He met with her every day to go over his coursework. The attention she gave him was a turning point in his educational career, he said.

Gupta, he said, helped him learn how to learn.

Not only did she go over coursework, but she also went over study and learning techniques that Talarczyk did not know.

“She changed my life in a way that I don’t even think she knows,” he said. “I was always in her office hours talking to her, learning from her, and she cared.”

Most importantly, though, Gupta helped Talarczyk fall in love with biology and birthed his desire to become a physician.

In two years, Talarczyk graduated from Kent State at Twinsburg, with an associate degree and then moved to Columbus, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in biology at Ohio State University in August 2023.

To achieve his dream of becoming a physician, Talarczyk decided to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology to improve his chances of getting into medical school. Once again, he turned to Kent State, where he is enrolled in the College of Public Health, taking his courses fully online. He expects to graduate in August 2025.

Melissa Zullo, Ph.D., associate dean in the College of Public Health and Talarczyk's advisor, said he is “a true Kent State success story.”

Melissa Zullo
Melissa Zullo

“Can you imagine being rejected from another university three times yet still being determined to get a college education?” Zullo said. “Kent State Twinsburg gave Alan the tools he needed to be successful. Alan could have gone anywhere for his master’s degree, and we are happy he chose Kent State’s College of Public Health. It speaks to the great experience he had starting his undergraduate degree at the Twinsburg campus.”

Through his master’s program in clinical epidemiology, Zullo said Talarczyk will have the chance to take part in an international research practicum at the American Academy Kent State operates with the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná with the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná, in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil, she said.

Talarczyk, who has a deep interest in South America and the Amazon rainforest, is considering studying antibacterial-resistant diseases, including dengue virus and leprosy.

Peggy Shadduck
Peggy Shadduck

Peggy Shadduck, Ph.D., vice president for Regional Campuses and dean of the College of Applied and Technical Studies, said for a student like Talarczyk, the first big step is getting in, and Kent State always provides an open door.

“The Regional Campuses of Kent State provide open admissions, meaning that if a person has earned their high school diploma, we will welcome them to become one of our students,” Shadduck said. “We also have a lower tuition rate than that charged at the Kent Campus and by most other public universities, which can help provide access to the learning experiences we provide.”

The next big step, she said, is to develop relationships with faculty and staff.

“The people who choose to make their careers in the Regional Campus system have chosen to be a part of a community of people trying to help people like Alan reach their potential as learners and in life,” Shadduck said. “They know that not everyone knows immediately what they want to achieve, so they listen well and provide guidance and encouragement. They are actively seeking the potential in each student and trying to nurture that potential.”

Shadduck said faculty at the Regional Campuses have high expectations for their students, but realize that many students need extra support, due to their own circumstances, including those who are first-generation college students, those who may not have earned high grades in high school, students who are working and rearing families and older learners returning to school after many years.

Faculty at Kent State’s Regional Campuses, she said, devote their work lives to these students, develop strong relationships with them, support and nurture their potential, challenge them, and help them thrive.

Talarczyk tears up when he talks about his plans for medical school, made possible by the help he received from the Twinsburg faculty who made learning come alive and inspired him to reach higher.

“I’ll always feel indebted to Kent State because they have this deferral program, and while I know I’m not the only one, it really felt like they were willing to take a shot on me, personally,” he said.