Donna Metzler

The Moab campus of Utah State University had its largest graduating class to date at the graduation ceremony held Thursday, April 24 at the Grand Center.

“This is also the largest audience we’ve had,” said USU-Moab associate dean Steve Hawks.

USU-Moab now has 131 students.

Hawks said the average student is age 35, typically married with children and is going to class in the evening while working full-time.

“There is a lot of dedication, long nights and wondering if it is worth it to achieve their academic goals,” Hawks said.

Sixteen USU-Moab students earned a variety of degrees. The first doctorate degree awarded by USU-Moab was given that night to Grand County High School principal Steve Hren.

This wasn’t Hren’s first time earning a graduate degree through USU-Moab while balancing full-time work and family. Hren also earned a master’s in secondary education in 1997 through USU-Moab.

“We have eight years once a doctoral program has begun,” Hren said. “I took every moment possible.”

Hren earned his doctorate degree while working for Grand County High School as a teacher and principal and also raising a family that now has five children with Deb Hren, his wife of twenty years

Hren was inspired by his father, who was the youngest of 14 children.

“Only one of those 14 graduated from high school,” Hren said. “My father did not. But he did get a GED.”

Yet, his father did believe in an education and told his son repeatedly, “Many things can be taken away from you in life, but one thing that can’t be taken away is your education.”

Hren took time to thank those who helped him earn his degree, including his professors who assisted him in the doctoral program.

He had two copies of his dissertation: one he gave to his wife, the other to his mother.

“Deb, you’re an inspiration to me on a daily basis for your commitment to family and community,” he said to his wife. “You are my role model for work ethic and to always to your best.”

Moab city manager Donna Metzler was the commencement speaker. She now sits on the USU-Moab advisory board to build a new campus south of town.

She is also a student.

She said that age 20 she set a goal to be a city manager. By age 26 she was.

Nearly twenty years later she is remembering an old dream.

“Do you know what I really want to do?” she asked the audience. “I want to teach high school English.”

As a child she would invite friends to her home and give them tests and homework to complete.

“I never understood why they didn’t want to play school with me,” she said.

She vacillated as the thought of giving up a twenty-year career to pursue one that required her to return to school for a different degree.

“It all seemed so huge,” she said. “I have a full time job. I need the benefits. I couldn’t give that up to go back to college.”

Last October she signed up for classes and now she is almost done with her first semester.

Sam Sturman, associate director of USU-Moab, gave a brief biography on each of the students as they were awarded their diplomas. Most of the life stories had a similar theme of having to balance work with education, sometimes multiple jobs, as well as raising children.

Most of the students took several years to complete their educational goal. And a few, upon completing a bachelor’s degree, are now aiming for graduate degrees.

Hren said that he may not have been able to earn his doctorate without the distance learning program through USU-Moab.

“USU’s distance system definitely made it possible for me to earn my doctorate. Since I am well established in Moab, I did not want to leave. I am entrenched in this community. I would not have earned a doctorate without USU’s distance program,” Hren said.

Robert Magleby earned his master’s in Instructional Technology and Learning Science. He is graduating with the honor of cum laude, which is having grade point average of 3.5 to 3.79.

“I feel very fortunate that I was able to achieve my educational goals and get to stay in Moab. Moab is my home, and I appreciate the opportunity to apply my skills and knowledge in the community where I live,” Magleby said.

Magleby balanced one full-time job, one part-time job and two occasional jobs during his time as a graduate student.

“My advice to students: never give up, ask for help when you need it, keep balance in your life, and help others whenever you can,” Magleby said.