Mount Union Graduate Shares Story of Success
May 16, 2012
ALLIANCE, Ohio — When recent Mount Union graduate Judy Thoma first started classes in 1991, she had no idea what was in store for her future.
This year, 22 years after she began school, Thoma has a bachelor’s degree from Mount Union and many memories of her time as a student. Thoma, originally from Malaysia, is the wife of Dr. James “Jim” Thoma, associate academic dean and professor of human performance and sport business at Mount Union. After getting married in Malaysia, the Thomases moved to the United States with two children — Louise ’04 and Jonathan. Their youngest, Andrea, was born in Alabama.
After moving to Alliance, Jim began teaching at Mount Union and Thoma did a number of jobs out of her home, including catering, sewing and babysitting nine children. But Thoma, who enjoys being active, soon grew tired of the same routine and decided to take some classes at Mount Union.
“I always wanted to earn a degree,” she said.
Thoma started out taking three courses, but found the demands of coursework somewhat challenging due to the transition to college classes and limitations with the English language.
“It was stressful because you want to do the best you can,” she said.
The next semester, Thoma took two classes but still faced challenges. Originally an early education major, she decided after an observation that teaching wasn’t for her. She then struggled to decide what major she should pursue.
“I listened to my kids complaining about me not understanding them,” she said. “I think there are cultural differences — what I want them to be is different than how they are. They said, ‘Mama, we are now in America. It applies there (Malaysia) but it doesn’t apply here.’ I looked through all the available majors at Mount Union and found American studies. I took this path because I wanted to know more about American culture.”
Thoma enjoyed the American studies major and learning about pop culture, gender, teenagers, marriage and relationships in the United States.
“American studies was a perfect fit for me to become more aware of what’s going on in America,” she said. “Before it was like I was living in my own world because that’s what I was comfortable with. I learned about it bit by bit without being frustrated.”
Thoma continued taking a class or two at a time for the next several years, until her daughter Louise encouraged her to become a full-time student, which she did for her last three semesters.
“She said, ‘I know you have good grades but you will never be a real student if you don’t become full time,’” Thoma recalled.
As a full time student, Thoma immersed herself in her studies, often staying at the library until 2 a.m. She also enjoyed interacting with other students while on campus.
“I talked to a lot of people,” she said. “One semester, my goal every morning was to say ‘Hi’ to as many students as I could. I loved it. The students teach you a lot of things. They are all different but they bring in all their own little things.”
Thoma said one secret to her success as a student was not being afraid to be herself. She became known to other students as someone who went above and beyond for class projects and skits, volunteering to play the role of a mother, a protestor and a gangster on different occasions.
“That’s how I see my life,” she said. “Why hold back? It’s part of learning. You want to see how far you can go — how daring and how true to yourself you are. If you care all the time about what other people think, then you can’t move out of your box.”
Now that she has earned a degree, Thoma sees herself working at a job that allows her to be active.
“I’m a people person. I have my degree so I can do whatever I want.”
Though she now has a bachelor’s degree, Thoma sees her education as far from being completed.
“I’m already looking at graduate school,” she said. “Education is very important to me and education doesn’t just mean academia — it can be anything. I think if you learn new things every day, it makes your life full.”
Thoma’s family members are proud of her accomplishments at Mount Union.
“I have to admire her for the dedication and energy she put into it,” Jim said. “She felt like she was a normal student. The students that know her treat her just like anybody else.”
“I think it’s great and it speaks to her determination to follow through with the things she starts,” Louise said. “Her turning point was deciding to go full time which I really encouraged her to do because she was spending way too much time on one class. She did it, and she got done faster and excelled.”