University News

Jacquelyn Schimke selected as UW-Whitewater 2022 winter commencement student speaker

December 01, 2022

Written by Dave Fidlin | Photo submitted

Portrait photo of Jacquelyn Schimke.

“Balance” is a word Jacquelyn Schimke uses to describe her life.

At times, she is able to devote equal attention toward her education and career goals, military service and family. At other times, one inevitably takes precedence over the others.

She will share her inspiring story as UW-Whitewater’s 2022 winter commencement student speaker at the 10 a.m. ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 17.

Schimke, who is earning a master’s degree a year-and-a-half after graduating from UW-Whitewater with a bachelor’s degree, said personal life experience played a pivotal role in charting her education and career goals.

She is earning her Master of Science in Education in Special Education — Professional Development, with autism specialist, transition specialist and applied behavioral analysis certifications.

In May 2021, she received her Bachelor of Science in Education from UW-Whitewater with an emphasis specifically on special education and cross-categorical licenses in intellectual disabilities and learning disabilities.

Her journey toward the special education field was borne out of personal experience. At age 3, her son, Tristan, was diagnosed with autism — a revelation, she said, that required a recalibration of her priorities, particularly when it came to her level of commitment in the U.S. Army, where she has served in various capacities since 2011.

“There was no balance. I couldn’t get into a rhythm of things. My son needed me much more than I felt the Army did. Once I went into the Reserves, the balance got a little easier.”

Initially, Schimke had not set out to obtain a degree in special education. But the insight of a UW-Whitewater faculty member prompted her to follow her heart and make an important pivot.

“My first advisor, Rowand Robinson, opened my eyes. It was his confidence in me. I could prioritize my career in a way that it could make me a better mother and also help make my career thrive. He showed me different options in special education. That’s why I chose Whitewater — it’s because I had an amazing advisor.”

Schimke — who graduated from Thorp High School in Thorp, Wis., in 2011 — said the eye-opening experiences she had as an undergraduate prompted her to continue the journey. She did so without missing a beat, too. She began taking graduate-level courses at UW-Whitewater in May 2021 while dually taking her finals as she closed out her undergraduate career on campus.

“I knew that I wanted to continue in special education, and Whitewater has an amazing reputation for their special education program.”

In the road ahead, Schimke said she intends to continue furthering her career goals, ultimately working toward a Ph.D. and attaining other certifications that are relevant to special education. She currently is living in North Carolina and has been taking her graduate-level courses virtually while working as a special education teacher and case manager.

“I really would love to work with young adults with disabilities and get them ready for the real world, in terms of applying for jobs, filling out a resume and keeping a job. It’s not always welcome in all communities, and I want that to change. That’s my big goal.”

She also has maintained her close ties to the U.S. Army, currently working out of Fort Bragg. In her latest stint with the military, Schimke — who in January was awarded Soldier of the Month — has cross-trained 250 soldiers on generators in her medical unit with hands-on manipulatives.

Schimke’s career with the U.S. Army has included disparate roles and experiences in the past 11 years. Early on, she served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, where she held a senior leadership position and was presented with a Pace Maker Achievement Award within 30 days of arriving in the Middle East.

Looking back at the milestones she has reached thus far, Schimke said an Outstanding Adult Student Award she received from a UW-Whitewater professor in November 2020 has been especially meaningful because it not only recognized her academic success, but her achievements as an adult.

Giving credit where it is due, she said her positive experiences as a UW-Whitewater undergraduate and graduate student never would have been possible without the campus culture and caring faculty.

“If I had to choose one word to describe UW-Whitewater, it would be ‘accommodating.’ It’s always been very student focused. If there’s something you need, there’s an office for it, which I think is great. Dr. James Collins, associate professor of special education, is still someone I consider a mentor. I have asked him to write me recommendation letters, and help in his classes. He is a dynamite and has always gone above and beyond for his students.”

For more information on UW-Whitewater’s commencement ceremonies, visit the commencement website at