The Sunflower

Husband, wife, daughter all pursuing undergrad degrees at WSU

The+Hill+family+have+coffees+at+Starbucks+on+campus.
The Hill family have coffees at Starbucks on campus.

The Hill family have coffees at Starbucks on campus.

Tanat Maichan

Tanat Maichan

The Hill family have coffees at Starbucks on campus.

For the Hill family, student life is a family affair. Heather, John, and their daughter Stephanie are all undergraduate students at Wichita State.

“We’re the trifecta,” John Hill said. “Triple trouble.”

John is studying history and Heather is working toward a degree in women’s studies. Stephanie is a general studies major with a focus in anthropology, history, and English.

Stephanie hopes to work in museums after graduating in 2020. She works and interns at The Museum of World Treasures and hopes to be employed at The Smithsonian one day.

“That’s the dream,” she said.

Stephanie doesn’t mind having her parents on campus.

“I do everything online so I’m not even on campus,” she said. “As long as they are getting their education and doing what they want, I’m fine with it.”

John and Heather have been a team for more than two decades — pretty much since the day they met. The fact that they are both getting their degrees now displays a pattern in their relationship of leaning on each other.

John went to barber school with Heather’s best friend’s husband. That’s how the two of them met. Heather says when she and her husband met in 1992, John was “in his country phase, his Garth Brooks phase.” John walked in the door and took off his cowboy hat and threw it down. Heather said to him, “that’s not the way to place your hat.” A friend of Heather’s responded by saying, “See, you’re not even married to her yet and she’s already telling you what to do.”

“She’s been telling me what to do ever since,” John said.

Three weeks after the couple met, the house Heather was living in burned down. She wound up moving into John’s mother’s house.

“We had started dating,” John said. “She literally had no place to live so she moved into my mom’s house.

“We were engaged after three weeks,” Heather said.

Those early days were tough. The two were living in Liberal and had next to nothing.

“We started out dirt poor,” John said. “We were living in government-assisted housing. We were as broke as you could possibly be and we were 200 miles from anyone we knew.

“We figured out real quick how to rely on each other. That was the foundation for how you make something work. Relationships have become like TVs — they break and you throw them in the trash.”

Not so for Heather and John, who are nearing their 25th anniversary.

Heather began her studies at Seward County Community College in Liberal. She graduated with an associate’s degree in 1997 before the couple moved to Wichita.

“I got my first job at a law firm,” Heather said. “I was a legal assistant for almost 20 years.”

Then she started working at the WSU Office of Financial Aid.

“My boss Angie said, ‘You really should consider going ahead and finishing your bachelor’s,’ Heather said. “I just hemmed and hawed, but finally decided to go ahead and do it, and then John’s like, ‘Maybe I should go back to school.’”

John’s situation was different from Heather’s.

“I went to school right out of high school — I went to Friends (University),” John said. “I was a dummy. I was the prototypical jock. I played soccer.

“My senior year (of high school), I broke my thumb. I’m a goalkeeper. I didn’t play my senior year and that caused a lot of issues with scholarship opportunities and recruitment,” John said. “Friends had a situation where someone got injured and they called me up and asked me if I was interested in playing. I had no interest in going to school. I wanted to major in girls and kicking the ball around.”

But then, “I got caught up in a bad situation.”

John got dragged into a sports scandal at Friends University. The school illegally administered the ACT to its athlete recruits. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics refused the scores.

“I got bent out of shape, quit school, and walked away from it,” John said. “Almost 30 years later, I regret it. I always felt like that was a poor decision. I’ve been very fortunate in my career and done very well with it, but there’s a part of me that wanted the opportunity to prove that I could do it.”

Though John is only taking a few credit hours a semester because he runs a business full-time, he’s pleased that he has the chance now to pursue a degree.

“I have a 3.85 GPA. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it,” John said. “I’ll soon be 50 years old and the reality is they start throwing you out of the work force at 50, not inviting you into it. I’m pursuing a history degree, but there’s only so much you can do with it. The degree for me is about personal satisfaction.”

Heather believes earning a bachelor’s degree will positively affect her career, but she’s unsure if she will ever want to leave the WSU financial aid office because of how supportive they are.

“I’ve got all these people rooting for me,” Heather said. “Sometimes it makes me cry, how supportive everyone is over at financial aid. It’s totally different from the private sector.”

Though John is in no rush to graduate, Heather hopes to graduate in the spring of 2020 — the same as her daughter.

“I think it would be cool to graduate at the same time,” Heather said.

Stephanie agrees.

“I think it’s cool,” she said. “I think it’s awesome that there’s a good chance that my mom and I could walk across the stage at the same time. That’s a good memory to have.

“I really am proud of my parents. I know it’s hard balancing work and school, but I think it’s awesome.”

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