Everything happens for a reason. This thought was reaffirmed in Gina Possin when she was accepted into the Working Families Grant Program in 2009, setting her on a path to more than 10 years later be a professor at Marian University.
Prior attending to Marian, Gina had attempted school multiple times, but it “hadn’t really panned out,” she said.
Following high school, Gina entered into business school in Minneapolis for “an administrative assistant-type of position.” As she started in the car business, she worked towards an associate degree in Supervisory Management, but when she earned a role in leadership, she no longer saw a need to complete it. However, as the economy took a downturn in 2008, she lost her job, and again enrolled in school, this time for music at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
After losing her job and going through a divorce, her boyfriend — who is now her husband — heard of the Working Families Grant Program through a friend. She was already planning to transfer to Marian to attain a bachelor’s degree and be “more local” for her daughter. She saw the program as an opportunity to get her back on track, although she didn’t know just how much it would, she said.
Due to lack of space, she was initially not accepted into the program, but through halfway September, as another student dropped out of the program, she took the spot.
Not only did the program help her financially, but supported her in life skills as well. She gained knowledge through budget counseling, and through emotional counseling, she found healing, she said. From community service, she learned the value of giving back. From the staff, she found support in the form of guides and cheerleaders.
“I would go in the office certain days and be down and they would say ‘you got this Gina, you can do it’ and just that extra motivation and moral support was amazing,” said Gina of the program’s staff. “It’s almost like a family.”
The family grew even larger when taking in the program’s other participants. Through classes and the program’s computer lab, Gina formed relationships with those who could understand what she was going through and to this day, remains friends with some.
As she found support on campus, she also found passion. Between the experience of her unhealthy marriage and acting as a “personal psychologist” to people during her time in the car business, she had been set on a path towards psychology before coming to Marian. However, at the university, she turned away from what one typically thinks of psychology, and to industrial organizational psychology. Pairing her business background as well as her curiosity in human behavior and thought, the field analyzes how people act in the workplace and how employees should be hired and trained.
Not only did her time in the program allow her to grow personally, but it allowed her to set a more positive example for her daughter. As Gina worked through life events, her daughter witnessed healthy coping skills and her personal healing. Without the Working Families Grant Program, she believes she would’ve had an even more noticeable impact on her daughter by demonstrating unhealthy coping skills. Instead, her daughter, now 22, says her mom “helped her understand how to be strong.”
Gina graduated in 2012 and was selected to be the class commencement speaker. Within her speech, she explained the impact of program on her life and shared the message to pay it forward.
“Any chance that we get in life, that’s one thing the Working Families Grant taught me is to pay it forward, and that doesn’t always mean financially. Sometimes it’s just advice. Sometimes it’s just helping somebody out in need,” she said.
The night of graduation, she sat on the edge of the stage to take in the opportunity she had been given — both that day and during her time at Marian. If not for the program, Gina does not know if she would’ve ever crossed it, or if Marian would’ve been another attempt at schooling that didn’t turn out.
Because of the program, her financial situation and knowledge allowed her to continue onto graduate school at the University of Central Florida where she earned a master’s degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology. After finishing school, she received a call from Dr. Amy Hennings at Marian University asking if she would teach classes at the university. Although she hadn’t considered teaching, it excited her and provided her a way to give back to Marian she had sought. Again, everything happened for a reason.
Now, Gina is an assistant professor at the university. As she works to finish her doctorate program, this fall she will also launch a new master’s program in Industrial Organizational Psychology.
“It’s something new that I can bring to the table at Marian and I know we have another student in the Working Families Program who is interested in the program, so it’s always cool to see that,” she said.
If she could, Gina would give a million dollars to further the program’s longevity and make possible opportunities future participants may have thought impossible. To those who provided it the ability to her, she cannot say enough.
“I am forever grateful and will always be grateful,” she said. “This is something that affects not only the person, the student, but it affects their families and it could go onto affect their families, because it’s so life changing.”