Michele Walfred (left), who earned her master of arts in liberal studies degree this spring, celebrates at the English department convocation with her graduate adviser, Jean Pfaelzer, professor of English at UD.

From AA to MALS

Carvel Center employee earns third UD degree

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2:12 p.m., July 3, 2014--This spring, University of Delaware employee Michele Walfred became a proud third-time UD graduate when she earned a master of arts in liberal studies (MALS) degree. 

A communications specialist in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Walfred works at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, where she supports communication and social media outreach for Delaware 4-H, Cooperative Extension and CANR programs in southern Delaware.

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Her Blue Hen story began much earlier as a UD English major in the 1970s. Unfortunately, circumstances forced a break in her studies long before she could complete her degree. With both of her parents ill at the same time, she began working in the family business and turned to family responsibilities full-time. 

“Then I got engaged and married, and life just happened,” Walfred said. “It had always bothered me that I never finished.”

Moving to Sussex County in 2001, she began working for UD’s Cooperative Extension as a receptionist. “I had no idea how my life would change,” she said.

One course at a time

After her daughter began taking courses in UD’s Associate in Arts program on the Delaware Tech campus in Georgetown, Walfred decided to join her, using her UD fee waiver benefit.

“I think working in a college environment had a lot to do with it,” she said. “I saw this terrific opportunity to accomplish something I had left behind, and I went for it. One course at a time it fell into place.” 

She credits Mary Miller, UD Associate in Arts academic adviser, with providing the guidance and support to re-start her college career.

By 2004, Walfred earned her associate in arts degree, and about four years later, both she and her daughter, Kathleen Mack, graduated with UD bachelor’s degrees -- Walfred in English with a concentration in journalism and Mack in theatre production (now working in the Broadway production of Wicked, as her proud mother notes). 

Diverse and challenging

This May, Walfred completed UD’s master of arts in liberal studies, an interdisciplinary graduate program emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach to broad questions about culture, ethics and human experience. 

“MALS is a diverse, challenging program that has changed the way I perceive and approach everything,” said Walfred, whose thesis project delved into the social and political significance of Thomas Nast cartoons depicting Chinese Americans. For her project, she created a website, “Thomas Nast: Illustrating Chinese Exclusion,” that has attracted more than 23,000 visits. An abstract on her Nast research was recently accepted for presentation at the annual national conference of the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs (AGLSP), to be held Oct. 9-11 in Philadelphia. 

"Living in Lewes and working in Georgetown, there were logistical challenges,” Walfred said. To complete the required coursework for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, it took a creative combination of taking courses in Georgetown, as well as through UD Online distance learning, and many long commutes to UD’s main campus in Newark. 

She added, “I was always the oldest student in the class, but I was accepted completely, and I keep in touch with several fellow students.” 

Important support

Walfred credits her UD colleagues with the camaraderie and support that saw her through that journey. “Although I earned all my degrees through the College of Arts and Sciences, it was the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources that made my degree possible," she said. “The support, mentoring and flexibility extended to me has been life-changing.”

“Working for UD offered me the tools to undergo a personal renaissance, not to mention the education benefits that sent my daughter through,” Walfred added. “As I advanced in my degrees, it opened up new opportunities for me, from receptionist to staff assistant to communication specialist. I’ve used my education to promote the college I call home. They are family and I owe them so much.”

As a three-time Blue Hen grad, Walfred said she strongly believes in giving back. “UD has changed my life in so many positive ways. Starting out as a $100 a year supporter, I’ve increased when I could, and I am now a proud Delaware Diamonds Society member,” she said.

Walfred also serves as the communication chair for UD’s Kent-Sussex Alumni Club and continues to volunteer for Delaware 4-H, which is part of UD Cooperative Extension.

“I’ve never been so proud to work at UD and call myself and my daughter a Blue Hen,” Walfred said.

Article by Nora Riehl Zelluk

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