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Arkansas State University

A-State’s B.S. in Strategic Communication Helps Heidi Strohm Koger Achieve Lifelong Career and Personal Goals

A-State bachelor's in strategic communication student Heidi Strohm KogerHeidi Strohm Koger grew up in Burlingame, Kansas, about 30 minutes south of Topeka. After graduating high school in 1988, she enrolled in a secretarial associate degree program at Emporia State University. However, it wasn’t the education she wanted. Koger enjoyed writing and preferred to study English. She just didn’t see a future in it.

“If I got a degree in English, what would I do with it?”, Koger remembered thinking at the time. She wasn’t interested in teaching or journalism, the two career paths most English majors she knew were pursuing. Her composition professor recognized her affinity for words, however, and inquired about her future plans.

“He asked me what I was majoring in, and I said, ‘office services,’ which is basically a secretarial science degree,” she recalled. “This was 35 years ago, and I still remember exactly what he said to me: ‘I can’t believe you’re going to spend your life typing someone else’s words instead of writing your own.'”

Koger went on to graduate with her associate degree in 1990 but didn’t attend the ceremony. She was still disappointed in the major she chose. Years later, she took her daughter back to Emporia State for a prospective college visit and was surprised to learn that her former English comp professor was still there.

“I know you will not remember me,” she told him, “but you said something to me that I’ve never forgotten.” Koger still marvels at the impact one professor ultimately had on her life. “Those words meant a lot to me at the time, and obviously they still do,” she said.

Once all four of her children finished college, Koger finally decided it was time to go back to school herself. She enrolled in the online Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication with Social Media Management Certification program at Arkansas State University in 2020.

“If they can do it, I can do it.” Koger noted. She is on track to complete her degree next year.

Finding Strength and Community

Koger easily adjusted to learning online because she spent 20 years as a remote medical transcriptionist. “I worked from home, before working from home was a thing or cool,” she recalled. “So online has been my life, really.”

A-State professors Holly Hall, Catherine Bahn, and Wendy Miller Jordan helped Koger get reoriented to college after a long break in her studies, and her advisors provided extra support during her first year in the program. “They did a very good job of making sure that they didn’t just throw you out there to sink or swim,” she emphasized.

Now that she is further along as an online student, she can appreciate some of the courses that seemed intimidating at first. “I’ve made it through all the classes that scared me,” she joked, acknowledging that the road to a bachelor’s degree can sometimes be an emotional journey.

Passing science and public speaking classes boosted her confidence, but tackling the math requirement had been her biggest concern. “Part of why I didn’t finish [a bachelor’s] degree all those years ago is because college algebra terrified me,” she recalled. Koger conquered her fear this time with persistence and a little help from a good friend who taught the subject. “She walked me through my tears and tutored me and she got me through it,” she said.

Koger has also bonded with classmates in ways she hadn’t expected. Some are the same age as her kids, who are all in their twenties. She says her A-State peers have largely embraced her as a nontraditional student coming back to school. “They’ve been very encouraging when I tell them what my story is,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, I think it’s great that you’re doing that.'”

Koger learns from her younger classmates as well and offers them support whenever she can. “My hope is that they’ve found some nugget of wisdom from just my life experience,” she said. “I mean, we’re all students, even though we’re different generations.”

Project of a Lifetime

Koger’s most memorable learning experience in the program to date has also been a personal one. During her Strategic Writing II course, she interviewed her 88-year-old father, Dean, spending a Saturday morning with him and his friends at their local coffee shop. “I learned a lot about his childhood that I didn’t even know,” she said.

Koger wrote a story based on the interview to complete the assignment. She then continued working on the project in a subsequent InDesign class. “I laid out his mini bio article into a four-page magazine spread,” she remembered, not realizing at the time that her work would soon become more meaningful.

Dean passed away two weeks after she finished the course, in October 2022. She posted the finished article to social media for their family and his wider community to read. Koger incorporated elements of it into her eulogy at his memorial service as well, and says the whole experience had a profound effect on her.

“Had I not decided to go back to school,” she noted, “I wouldn’t have put his life down on paper. … I’m thankful that I got that opportunity to spend that time with him and write that story, and share it.”

She also remains grateful for the strong support she has had at home while earning her degree, especially from her husband, Steve. Koger credits her employer for providing tuition assistance as well, and her boss for cheering her on. “I’m very thankful to her for her support as I go through this,” she said. “It means a lot.”

This time, Koger looks forward to graduation, and to sharing the occasion with loved ones. “I want to be able to walk across the stage and wear my cord,” she said emphatically, flashing a big smile. “Hopefully my mom will be able to join us. … I hope that she’ll be proud of me, to watch me do that.”

“I’m going to be really proud of myself,” she said.

Dreams On Track, Goal in Sight

Koger currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas and works as an office administrator for an investment firm. She also does proofreading for Grace Advertising & Consulting, where she will serve as an intern next spring. Koger expects to complete her bachelor’s at A-State in May 2024.

She has been earning recognition as well. Koger was awarded the Tracey Johnson-Webb Adult Learners Scholarship in 2022 and invited to join the Kappa Tau Alpha honor society in 2023. Kappa Tau Alpha recognizes academic excellence in journalism and mass communication. Her family was able to watch her recent induction ceremony live via Zoom.

“My son immediately texted me after it was over,” she reported. “He said, ‘Wow mom, you know, I didn’t even realize what all this was until they explained…that’s very impressive what you’ve done.”

In addition to using her new skills at work, Koger plans to help local nonprofits expand their social media presence and improve their fundraising efforts. She volunteers for the Burlingame Historical Preservation Society and the Cat Association of Topeka, a no-kill shelter.

“If I can take the knowledge that I learned from this investment that I’ve made in myself and do that, then that would be fulfilling,” she said.

While the career benefits of her bachelor’s degree will be significant, Koger most looks forward to the sense of validation and accomplishment she will feel from earning it. “For the longest time, I didn’t do it for a lot of reasons,” she said. “I always knew that I had the talent, but I’ve proven to myself that I can put it into action, and I can see it through. And that was my goal.”

She believes that other students experiencing self-doubt – or simply waiting for the right moment to tap into their potential – can overcome their obstacles, just as she has. “Figure it out, find a way to do it,” she advised, adding that the rewards of education are worth the effort. “I’m having a blast,” she said. “I really am.”

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication with Social Media Management Certification program.

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