Penn State World Campus student turns tragedy to triumph

December 11, 2001

Over time, McKee has learned to wiggle her fingers enough to peck at a keyboard and to get around daily with the help of a power wheelchair. Although that progress is not enough to allow her to continue her previous career, other opportunities have opened up for her.

“The accident changed my outlook on life,” explained McKee, “and I immediately looked to education since I had no formal degree.”

Most traditional programs did not allow her to balance her education with a growing family. Then, McKee found Penn State Distance Education.

“Distance Education is hard work, but my children make it all worthwhile. Even if for some reason I can’t work after obtaining my degree, I will be an educated person, setting a good example for my children and having gained the knowledge that can help them in their future endeavors. Distance Education has changed my life from tragedy to triumph,” she said.

“I am learning so much,” she added. “Distance Education affords me an opportunity to pursue my own goals and personal work. My education is separate from my issues regarding my disability or my family life and caring for my children.”

Commenting on McKee’s experience, Gary E. Miller, associate vice president for Distance Education and executive director of the World Campus, noted, “Kelley’s story is a wonderful reminder about the impact of Distance Education on the lives of our students and the importance the World Campus places on making a home for students who can not meet their needs through traditional residence programs.”

Jane Ireland, academic advisor for Distance Education and the World Campus, remembers when McKee first called her office in the summer of 1999. “As Kelley and I navigated together through the application process, financial aid, and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Kelley never doubted for a moment that we could get this done. I was amazed at her determination, her positive attitude and her caring. Kelley is the perfect example of what I would hope to be if my life’s path were to follow hers,” Ireland said.

McKee is a successful student, carrying 12 credits each semester. She plans to complete her bachelor’s degree in letters, arts, and sciences then continue on to obtain an online master’s degree.

She attributes much of her success to her “outstanding instructors” and a number of student support services, including financial aid, disability services and vocational rehabilitation. Many of these faculty and staff, however, say that it is McKee who has been outstanding.

Susan Waitkus, instructor in English at Penn State DuBois, stated, “Kelley inspires not only other students, but also faculty fortunate enough to encounter her. She reminds us how privileged we are to teach.”

“Kelley reminds us of the mission we have in Distance Education-to bring a quality Penn State education and experience to students regardless of their geographic location or life circumstances. Kelley is a wonderful example for us of the profound effect we have on the lives of Distance Education students and what a valuable service we offer to a great many students who truly need access to education,” Ireland added.

After graduation, McKee hopes to work with injured or disabled individuals, possibly in counseling in a rehabilitation setting.

“I have no doubt Kelley will achieve her goals,” Ireland added.