…smoothing his transition from soldier to student.
Paul F. Willems’ transformation story is infinitely interesting because his transformation is two-fold: from civilian to soldier and soldier to student…in a matter of years.
“I was decorated three times in Vietnam with bronze stars, once for valor,” Paul reflects. “I was always rated in the top 5% of my officer class after being drafted and attending Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. But entering college, after four years of military service, was the most scary thing I had done to date.”
However, UWGB’s friendly, open nature allowed for Paul’s smooth transition from soldier to student.
“Everyone at the university was welcoming and encouraging. My first year was a little tough, not having any experience like it before. None of my family had attended college, so there was no big brother in whose footsteps I could follow,” Paul says. “I really was on my own.”
Once on campus, Paul found a support system, anchored by three important teachers and one very special student.
“Dr. Ron Baba facilitated my creative and critical thinking skills, Dr. David Littig taught me political analysis and organization and presentation of critical information that would and could influence decision making, and Dr. Kumar Kangayappan taught me to understand more about other cultures and to appreciate the beauty of foreign languages and other ways of thinking,” Paul asserts. “All three of these gentlemen remain good friends.”
“But my lovely bride, Barbara, was my rock,” Paul says. “She was an excellent typist and she typed all my papers, flawlessly.”
And one would think that a man who knew what it was like to be a rock star–Paul played in a rock band for six years–and being a successman serviceman in the U.S. Army–Paul was discharged as a Captain–wouldn’t need to prove anything to himself, but one would be wrong.
“I am very proud of what I achieved at UWGB, even though I wasn’t anywhere near being a 4.0 student,” Paul explains. “Graduating from UWGB meant a great deal to me. What I learned at UWGB was the give and take that comes from the sharing, freely, of ideas–a real eye-opener for a 23-year-old Vietnam veteran who was the first of his immediate family to attend and graduate from college. Combined with my other experience, it [my UWGB education] has allowed me to tackle virtually every challenge I have chosen to undertake.”
Name: Paul F. Willems
Grad Year: 1975
Major: Urban Analysis
Minor: Political Science
We’ve asked alumni to either share stories of how their lives were transformed by the UWGB experience or how they are making the world a better place with transformational work in their careers, homes, or volunteer experiences. As UWGB celebrates its 50th Anniversary, meet an alum each week who has experienced a “UW-Green Bay Transformation.” Stories were self-submitted and then edited by Zachary Taylor, a 2010 English Education graduate currently serving as Interim Associate Director of the Phuture Phoenix program.