Aspiring educator finds her way back to Wayne State

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Luanne Romano
Luanne Romano

Luanne Romano always wanted to work with children. Her father — who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Wayne State — encouraged her to attend his alma mater, but she had other plans. She enrolled in a nuclear medicine technology program at the University of Detroit after high school. Two years later, she realized it was not the right fit.

“It was fascinating, but I wasn’t enjoying any of the classes I was taking,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t in the right field.”

Romano stopped going to school, got married and started a family. She began working at Gymboree and discovered she loved teaching, leading and directing. Once all four of her children were in school, Romano enrolled in the paraprofessional education program at Macomb County Community College and then worked in the L’Anse Creuse School District for four years. When she was laid off in 2010, she decided to pursue a degree in education and became a full-time student at Wayne State. Shortly after, Regina High School, her alma mater, offered her a position as development director, and she spent four years growing the annual fund and improving alumni relations.

Longing to return to the classroom, Romano started substitute teaching and attending Wayne State part time. After a death in the family, Romano stopped attending classes in the middle of the semester and had to pay back part of the Pell grant she had received.

“I never seemed to have the money to pay my debt,” she said. “I had one son in college. I was able to work with one of my professors to complete one of the classes I had started, but I did not have the funds to continue.”

Several of Romano’s family members are alumni of the College of Education. Her brother earned a degree in education from Wayne State and has been teaching in the Detroit Public Schools for nearly 20 years. Her son graduated from Wayne State in 2012 with a degree in exercise science. When her daughter began pursuing a degree in education at Wayne State, Romano decided it was time for her to return to school and attended the first Warrior Way Back program meeting.

“I wanted to come back to Wayne State before I heard about the program,” she said. “Learning there was an avenue to help me eliminate my debt and earn my degree made returning 100 times better.”

Launched last May, the Warrior Way Back program — which contributed to Detroit being named a Talent Hub by the Lumina Foundation and The Kresge Foundation — offers former students with an outstanding balance of less than $1,500 the opportunity to re-enroll and “learn” away their past debt while earning an undergraduate degree. Re-enrolled students reduce their past-due balances by one-third at the end of each successfully completed semester until the debt is eliminated and gain access to a suite of services and resources designed to help them succeed. 

Romano, who is majoring in elementary education with a focus in math, said the most surprising thing about returning was how much the program and university had changed.

“My advisor had to re-evaluate my transcript. I have a couple of additional classes I need to take,” she said. “There are so many positive changes that have happened in Detroit and on campus. My first day back, I couldn’t believe how many students were walking around.”

Now that she is back on track to earn her degree, Romano is focused on new goals.

“My goal is to finish before my daughter does,” she joked. “Then, I want to teach full-time for 15 to 20 years before I retire.”

For more information about the Warrior Way Back program, visit wayne.edu/financial-aid/warriorwayback.

 

by Tracy A. Walker