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For father & daughter, graduation is a family event

December 12, 2006 12:00AM

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For Mike Bowman, the conventional wisdom that children learn from their parents has usually been true. As his kids grew up, he taught them how to play sports and coached their teams ? training his middle daughter Monica Holmes, 23, to become a budding collegiate athlete.

But as the Pittsburg State University father-daughter team walk across the stage together this Friday to accept their degrees in education, Bowman knows sometimes it's your kids who teach you a thing or two.

/I always had problems in school," said Bowman, 47, who came back to college four years ago after his oldest daughter, Michelle, a teacher in Carthage, Mo., encouraged him to supplement his softball coaching job at Southeast High School in Cherokee, Kan., with a degree. Busy running a photography business with his wife, Bowman was hesitant at first.

"I was so discouraged when I saw my old transcript," said Bowman, who hadn't attended college since 1979. "I walked across the campus and thought, 'This place is huge.' I was terrified. I thought it would take forever to get my degree."

He started tackling the courses one at a time, and in 2004 was encouraged by his wife, Janelle, to focus solely on school and coaching by letting her handle the business. That's when he and Holmes, a former Pitt State cheerleader who was also working toward an education degree, compared notes and saw the possibility of graduating together.

"I knew I was way behind her, but she kept me going," he said.

Bowman pulled 21-hour semesters with the goal of catching up to his daughter.

"My family kept me on task. There were a couple of times I thought it wasn't worth it. I wanted to quit. But I didn't, because they believed in me," Bowman said.

Although the two never took any courses together ("We tried to get in the same classes, but it never worked out," said Holmes) they encouraged each other along the way by sharing information on instructors and studying for major exams.

"The instructors here are the greatest. They touched me in so many ways and when you have good teachers, it can make even an average person excel," said Bowman.

As for going to school with Dad, Holmes said her father made her proud.

"I've heard some people say they're embarrassed about their parents going to school, but I never had that problem. Other students have said 'That's your dad? He's the cool guy we were trying to get to come to a party,'" Holmes said with a laugh. "I think he's awesome."

This fall, the two did their student teaching simultaneously, with Bowman teaching physical education in his hometown of Columbus, Kan., and Holmes focusing on elementary education in Frontenac, Kan. With Holmes expecting her first child in February, the family says there were three generations in the classroom at once.

"Seldom has a father-daughter come through at the same time," said Kent Runyan, professor of curriculum and instruction at PSU. "For them to have done their student teaching at the same time and had such great experiences, it's just excellent. They have such a positive relationship."

Education at Pittsburg State appears to run in the family. In addition to Monica and Michelle, the Bowmans' son, Marcus, is also on the path toward an education degree at PSU. This weekend as they celebrate their dual achievements, Bowman and Holmes can now add the shared experience of knowledge to their father-daughter bond.

"I've learned it's never too late to go for a dream," Bowman said. "I have the best kids and wife in the whole world."

Winter commencement exercises at PSU will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15, in the John Lance Arena of the Weede Physical Education Building. A reception for graduates, their families and friends will be hosted by PSU President Tom Bryant at 6 p.m. on the Mezzanine in the arena. For more on commencement events, check out the news and calendar sections on the Pitt State Web site.

©2006 Pittsburg State University