Story and photo by Elvyn Jones/The Baldwin City Signal December 10, 2013
Justin Hoffman can point to the motivation that will have him don cap and gown Saturday for Kansas University’s graduation at the Lied Center.
“They’re the reason I went back to school,” he said, pointing to his 4-year-old son Mason and 6-year-old son Caden.
The 34-year-old Hoffman will receive his bachelor’s degree in public administration from Kansas University, an accomplishment he didn’t think was in the cards a decade ago.
After graduating from Baldwin High School 1998, where he was an average student who settled for Cs, Hoffman enrolled at KU. He wasn’t motivated at the college setting, either. If there was a choice between tending to his studies or going out with friends, he chose the latter, he said.
“I flunked out in 2001,” he said. “At that time, I decided not to pursue a college education. I decided I didn’t have the discipline or maturity level needed to be successful.”
Hoffman married his girlfriend, Julie, and joined the workforce, working construction and at Baldwin Feed and Grain. But he never got on a career track.
Staring at 30 with no bright future prospects and two young sons, Hoffman decided he should give college a second try. He wasn’t starting from scratch, having earned 55 credit hours toward a political science degree during his first college experience.
“I was supportive,” Julie said. “I knew it was what he wanted to do. He was really nervous when he went back because of his history and family commitments.”
To ease his way back into academic life, he enrolled in the fall of 2010 at Johnson County Community College.
“That was the right choice,” he said. “I never got less than an A while I was there, and we were able to pay for it out of pocket. It allowed me to build the momentum and confidence I needed before going back to KU, which I knew would be much more challenging.”
The next big step in Hoffman’s academic resurrection was applying in the spring of 2012 to re-enter KU. Helping with the transition was his academic advisor, Dan Mueller of the KU Edwards Campus.
“He was encouraging and behind me every step of the way,” Hoffman said. “He never doubted I could make it. He has seen his fair share of students coming back to school after a long layoff.”
Hoffman continued to excel at KU. Since returning to the university, he has a 3.90 grade-point average, was inducted into the National Honor Society and has made the honor roll every semester.
The last seven months, Hoffman went from a part-time student to one with a full-time load as he made a final push to finish his degree. He enrolled in nine hours during the summer and 18 in the fall semester, giving up a part-time job that helped pay the bills.
“We didn’t do this without a lot of sacrifices,” Hoffman said. “We sold our house so I could go back full-time.”
It is just one of the sacrifices her husband made with his new commitment to academics, Julie said.
“He’s changed a lot,” she said. “There were a lot of evenings we couldn’t go out because of his studies. We’ve had to say no to a lot of people.”
As he prepared for one last week of finals and papers, Hoffman said he learned a lot about time management.
“Finding time for work, attend classes, do the class work and still have quality time for my family was the biggest challenge,” he said. “I started a lot of papers at 9 p.m. on the dining room table, which was kind of my desk.
“Even at 34, I needed people behind me. I needed the support of Julie, my parents, my in-laws and my advisor.”
He chose to major in public administration because he wants to serve others, Hoffman said. He’ll receive his diploma without a job, but will start sending out résumés soon with the goal of finding a position with a nonprofit organization. It was a career path he found appealing after taking a course on foundations and nonprofits this semester.
“That made me really think that was the path I wanted to take,” he said. “You won’t get rich working for nonprofits, but doing something that gives me joy and helping others I think will give me more satisfaction.”
Although it is time to start making money and quit going into debt, graduate school also remains a possibility, Hoffman said. KU has the nation’s No. 1 public affairs graduate program, which he finds appealing. He’s also considering getting an MBA from MidAmerica Nazarene in Olathe, he said.
“I want to see what jobs are out there for me, but I’ll look at that in a year or two,” he said. “I have the momentum of my success as an undergraduate, so I want to do it sooner than later.”