LU creative writing program fuels student’s passion
Editor’s Note: This spring’s Advanced Composition class was assigned to write a feature story and submit it for publication consideration to Lakeland’s blog or another outlet. The story below was written by junior Tayler Otten.
Lakeland senior Melissa Kassens knows what it means to work hard for your goals. As a full-time student, full-time employee and a full-time mom to three kids, Kassens has known the struggle to create a healthy work-life balance. When she decided to go back to school, she knew sacrifices would need to be made.
“I try to remember that I need to show up and do my best every day where and when I can,” Kassens said, “to make sure that I am taking care of everything that I have on my plate, but not to forget to feed myself."
Although she can’t be everywhere at once, Kassens makes it work. The queen of multi-tasking, she takes advantage of her hour-long commute from Port Washington every day by joining work conference calls and class meetings on the drive. She acknowledges that the commute not only gives her time to get work done, but it also allows her to transition from mom to student.
“Being a parent, you have an entirely new role of responsibility and maturity,” Kassens shared. “Even if life is coming at you fast, you still have to get up and push forward through the day. With going to college at this point in my life, I realized that if I can run a household and keep other humans alive, I can turn in a paper.”
After graduating from Cedarburg High School, Kassens originally didn’t have plans of going to college. Instead, she chose to move to Colorado and become a ranch hand. She spent her time guiding tourists on horseback, mucking out stalls, driving tractors and digging trenches.
“I loved being in the fresh air, having a clear mind,” Kassens remembered. “Being active and outside brings me some kind of clarity and allows me to breathe.”
After a year working as a wrangler, Kassens decided to return to Wisconsin and put the CNA license she got in high school to use. Kassens worked in the healthcare industry on and off for almost 20 years until she realized her heart wasn’t in it anymore. After being on call almost 24/7 and working third shift for a few years, Kassens grew tired of the work. She found that something was missing in her life: passion.
The more Kassens thought about what changes she could make to revive her passion, the more she remembered a certain writing workshop she had in seventh grade at Webster Middle School in Cedarburg, WI. Students from UW-Milwaukee had visited her school and held a writing workshop, selecting the five best writers to go back to UW-Milwaukee with them for a tour. Kassens was one of those five talented students.
Kassens had never allowed herself to consider a career or degree in writing. Although it was her passion, she had been told there were no reliable career paths in writing. However, after finally deciding to go back to school and majoring in creative writing, Kassens has found her place. She relishes the sense of peace writing brings to her each time she puts words on a page, just as her time outdoors in Colorado had done years before.
“I feel completely zoned in,” Kassens said, “like I’m moving in the right direction, and my thoughts feel more focused (but chaotic at the same time).”
Focused in the chaos, Kassens has taken the creative writing program at Lakeland by storm. A wide array of internships from writing for the Lakeland Mirror to planning and running the 2022 edition of the Great Lakes Writers Festival at Lakeland has given Kassens the insight she needed to understand her calling in writing. Her newest dream? Opening a publishing company.
Kassens’ plans for her publishing company involve a deeply rooted sense of community and understanding. Because of her experience with people discouraging her to enter the field, Kassens’ publishing company will encourage and help young people write and publish their own stories. Those students will then be able to put the earnings from their stories toward their education, a benefit she wishes she had had in her youth.
Although she tried backing out of starting classes at Lakeland multiple times due to personal doubts and financial worries, Kassens is grateful for the persistent admissions and recruiting team for guiding her through the big life decision. Each tour and meeting with professors drew her closer to the dream she was scared to acknowledge. After being told neither night school nor online learning were options for the creative writing degree she sought, Kassens was forced to make the leap and become a full-time student.
“It felt like the right decision as soon as I stepped foot on campus,” said Kassens, whose has three children: Brody (16), Braelynn (10) and Brielle (6).
“The support from professors like Jodie Mortag and Dr. (Anthony) Liguori has been indescribable. They have both gone out of their way to help me in times when it was difficult and have always been an encouraging backbone that I sometimes needed.”
Kassens shares that the support she received from faculty, professors, friends and family have made the transition back to school achievable. Between her parents offering to pick up her kids after school and her professors “talking [her] off a ledge full of doubt,” Kassens is finally able to be a college student. After years of putting her kids and “practical” job first, she has the chance to be the person she wants to become.
Kassens says that she is, “able to separate from being mom/wife to being Melissa the student and focus on [her]self.”
Although the road has been long and hectic, Kassens has made it to her final year of college. With her goals in sight, she can’t imagine a world where she didn’t make the decision to return to school. She encourages anyone feeling stuck or hesitant to do the same.
“Do it,” she insisted. “Don’t second guess it. If there is something calling you or pulling you to do something, and you strive to gain knowledge and make connections that could potentially help push your dreams and goals forward, why wouldn't you take that opportunity?”