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College of Continuing Education News

Interdisciplinary inspiration

MLS alumna honors brother's memory with donation to scholarship fund --

Sharon Hogenson.jpg

Sharon Hogenson understood the value of education from an early age, with a passion for learning and a love of interdisciplinary study instilled in her early on by her parents.

"Neither one of my parents had more than an eighth grade education," she says. "But they encouraged us. There were five of us siblings--all born in the 30s and 40s--and each and every one of us has at least one college degree. I was excited the day I first went to school...and I am still enthusiastic about learning new things now."

Hogenson graduated with a degree in English from Mankato State University in 1967, and went on to a career in social work. She was in her 50s when she decided she wanted to go back to school for a graduate degree. "I had been working for many years, and had served in so many capacities in the field...I had a lot of experience and on the job training, but no master's degree," she says.

She was accepted into the University of Minnesota's School of Social Work and began working toward her Master of Social Work (MSW), but random flickers of doubt kept nagging at her. "It was a great program, but deep down...I just wasn't sure that it was for me. It wasn't quite what I wanted; what I needed."

Fate seemed to agree with Hogenson's assessment: one day, she was leafing through a catalog and noticed the College of Continuing Education's Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) program. "It caught my eye--and it seemed like it would let me study things that intrigued me.

She continues, "Even when I was taking social work courses, I took an interdisciplinary approach to my studies -- combining things like literature and social science. And here was a graduate degree that did exactly that. The program really appealed to me."

After meeting with MLS advising staff, Hogenson officially changed her focus and transferred to the College of Continuing Education. She received her MLS degree in 2002.

And although her work had a social work-related theme (her thesis was "Aunt Betsey and Me: Successful Aging as Portrayed in Literature"), Hogenson "studied everything from politics to chaos theory," as she worked toward her degree.

"I actually retired (for the first time) right about when I finished my degree," Hogenson says. "But I wasn't getting a master's just to bump up my pay grade or to get an academic credential after my name. I wasn't in it for the money."

She continues, "When I first graduated from college--I knew what I wanted to do for a career path. But I didn't know my own mind... Studying in the MLS was engaging, interesting, stimulating. It was energizing to me."

That is not to say, however, that it was easy. "There was a point where I didn't think I was going to be able to finish," Hogenson admits. "My job was demanding a lot from me, and I was working a full caseload, and I just didn't know if I'd have the energy to do it."

A conversation with her oldest brother, Dr. Dennis Hogenson, encouraged her to stay the course. "I called him and told him I was thinking of dropping out, and he told me to stick with it, find something I loved to study and to make my thesis. He told me that I would never regret money I spent on education. And he was right."

When Dennis passed away in 2009, Hogenson discovered that each of the siblings had been included in his will. It seemed fitting to her that she could use some of his gift to help give back to the program that meant so much to her. An annual donor to the U already, Hogenson decided to make an additional one-time gift of $3,000 to the MLS Scholarship fund in her brother's memory.

"My brother was an incredible, amazing person. He was dyslexic, and yet he went on to earn multiple graduate degrees and to be a successful psychologist. His words and actions kept me going in the MLS program. He was such an inspiration to me, and I felt like this was the perfect way to honor him."

Being able to make the donation was an empowering experience for Hogenson. "Education is underfunded--and it's expensive to get a degree. Back when I was in school, there were more options for people who didn't have a degree. Not anymore. If college were as expensive as it is now when I graduated from high school...my parents and I, we couldn't have afforded it.

"I'm not rich, by any means, but I am fortunate. To write a check for that much money was a unique experience. It felt wonderful to be able to create opportunities for others; to give back. It was a way to express my gratitude to the MLS program for such an enriching experience... and I can't think of a better way to pay tribute to my brother."

Hogenson also has designated the Master of Liberal Studies Program as a beneficiary in her will. Her love of learning and her commitment to helping others will be her legacy. The College is deeply grateful to her for her generosity.

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