Nene Frost’s love for her husband and three children couldn’t be more clear, and it was with her family’s support that she achieved her higher education goals. A recent graduate of the 100 percent online University of Wisconsin Associate of Arts and Sciences program, she faced many challenges along the way to earning her degree. Regardless of where she was in her life, her gratitude for the program remained constant throughout.
“If I was not in the program, I would have had to completely put my school on break again and would not have been able to continue to get this far,” she said. “I feel like the program was a godsend for me.”
Nene’s story begins thousands of miles away in Guinea, the country in Africa where she was born and raised. She worked as a correspondent for a local newspaper and was also an active volunteer and president of a club that fought to end violence against women. While in the club, she attended a national seminar and worked on a project with a young man from Iowa who was in the Peace Corps. The two instantly fell in love, and he would later become Nene’s husband.
The couple moved to Iowa after getting married. With French and Fulani being her first two languages, Nene went to community college in 2012 to become fluent in English and take general education courses. Her family expanded to include three children, and she put her studies on hold and became a stay-at-home mother as they relocated to Minnesota.
Once her kids were old enough to start school, Nene decided she wanted to return to higher education to earn a degree. She was working as a teaching assistant when her school’s principal–who had attended UW-River Falls–recommended that she apply there after praising its teaching program.
Nene began her associate degree in 2021 by taking courses on campus. The COVID-19 pandemic was still in full effect however, so there were times when her children had to quarantine and stay home from school. Because of this, Nene needed to find an alternative that would be more flexible and accommodating, and allow her to be at home with her family while still being able to complete courses.
“I decided to look into different ways to continue my education without having to miss out on my kids, especially when they’re sick,” she said. “And that’s when I found out about the [online AAS] program.”
The UW AAS program helped to build the foundation of her success and give Nene a broad liberal arts background and education. However, her time in the program came with additional challenges.
In 2020 while still living in Minnesota, Nene and her family were deeply affected by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests.
“We wanted [our children] to see all the people, regardless of their race, who were at the protests fighting for justice,” she said. “We wanted them to know that we weren’t the only ones feeling hurt and unsafe about the situation, and that there are many other people sharing those feelings and asking for justice as well.”
Nene and her husband had previously discussed moving to a warmer state at some point, but the racial climate at the time—as well as a favorable housing market for selling their home—compelled them to make a major move.
“We’ve always loved Hawaii and always thought we wanted to visit, so we thought, how about Hawaii?” she said. “My husband is Caucasian and I am Black, so our kids could easily blend in. We wanted a safe environment for them to grow into without having to worry about the color of their skin.”
With Nene’s husband working remotely, they were able to successfully relocate to Hawaii. They moved within three months of making the decision, and with no house or car upon arriving, this period was truly a fresh start for her family. Over the course of two months, they stayed at five different homestays through Airbnb before finding a new home in Hawaii.
Despite the massive change, and no matter where she was living, Nene was able to keep taking courses online in the UW AAS program.
“I appreciated being in the program even more during that time, because it allowed me to not only be there for my children while in Minnesota when they needed to quarantine, [but] then when we had to move and be in different Airbnbs,” she said. “I still was able to continue my education thanks to the program.”
Before moving, Nene experienced a setback to her health when she suffered a concussion. Her lingering symptoms made it hard to look at her computer screen for long periods of time, so she ultimately decided to take a semester off and drop courses during what would have been her final semester in the program.
Get Program Guide
Learn more about our 100% online degree and certificate programs.
While the past few years have been tumultuous at times for Nene, her spirit and optimism have remained unshaken.
“Believing in yourself also entails keeping a positive mindset, because if you don’t, then there’s no way you can believe in yourself,” she said. “So things that I would tell myself [are] that, OK, you may not be going at the pace at which you wanted to. But you are doing it. You haven’t given up. You are doing great. You are doing your best and that’s enough.”
She also credits her family for being there for her as she worked toward completing the program on her own time.
“I am so grateful for my husband, because he is my biggest support,” she said. “He’s my rock. He’s been my biggest cheerleader throughout this whole journey. And my children, just having them there with the hugs and love and words of encouragement. I feel like all of those are things that we should not take for granted, because they remind you that you’re not alone and that you’re doing OK.”
An encouraging presence for Nene within the program was Tricia Davis, the academic director of the AAS program at UW-River Falls. Nene says Tricia was incredibly supportive and helpful whenever she encountered challenges while in the program.
“Tricia is another person I am very grateful for, because she really was there to guide me through it … I felt like she didn’t only care about me as a student, but also as a person,” she said. “And that meant a lot as a mom, as a wife, as all the other responsibilities that I had.”
The program’s instructors were also accommodating and more than willing to work with Nene as she dealt with her concussion symptoms and the move to Hawaii. She also appreciated having discussion groups as a way to get to know her fellow classmates and work together with them on projects, which helped keep the online courses from feeling isolating.
Despite the constant adversity, Nene thrived in the UW AAS program and landed on the Dean’s List. Having finished the program in fall 2023, she recently accepted a new teacher’s assistant role and is working to become a preschool teacher.
Nene also has plans to use her associate degree as a stepping stone to further her studies at the University of Hawaii and complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology. With some of her favorite courses from the UW AAS program being UWX ED230: Educational Psychology, UWX PS250: Lifespan Psychology, and UWX PH121: Critical Thinking, Nene is confident the knowledge she gained will help with her future career goals.
When times get hard, Nene’s biggest advice to others in the program is to give yourself grace and internalize the same support we so often extend to others.
“It’s important to love yourself and appreciate every milestone, because I feel like we tend to get overwhelmed by societal issues and what we need to be to make others proud,” she said. “But then we forget that the source is to make ourselves proud. We tend to want to make others happy, which is good. But you cannot make others happy until you make yourself happy first.”
If you’d like to learn more about the University of Wisconsin Associate of Arts and Sciences program, contact an enrollment adviser by calling 608-800-6762 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
University of Wisconsin Associate of Arts and Sciences is a partnership of UW Extended Campus, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Parkside, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, and UW-Whitewater. Nene earned her degree through UW-River Falls.