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New grad follows in her mother's footsteps

| Judy Berthiaume

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, Samantha Gerland’s mom should be feeling really good right now.

After all, Samantha will earn her bachelor’s degree in marketing from UW-Eau Claire this month, the same degree that her mom, Joan Mianecki Gerland, earned from UW-Eau Claire 27 years ago.

Samantha also will graduate magna cum laude, just as Joan did in 1992.

Like her mother, the Rice Lake native began her college career at UW-Barron County, now known as UW-Eau Claire — Barron County.

Both mother and daughter earned associate degrees at the Rice Lake campus, Samantha graduating in 2017 with a degree in liberal arts and sciences, and Joan in 1990 with an associate degree in science.

A series of coincidences?

Nope, just a daughter who thinks her mom made a lot of smart choices that are worth imitating.

“People always joke about following in your parents' footsteps; I embraced it,” Samantha says. “I’ve always looked up to my mom and I’d be lucky to be half the person that she is today. I didn’t completely plan on following in her exact footsteps, but that is kind of how it happened, and I think that’s pretty cool. She’s helped me so much along the way and having similar experiences through our educational career was always a bonus for me.”

Knowing her mom had a good experience on the Rice Lake campus was one of several reasons Samantha opted to begin her college career there.

“I also wanted to pay for all my own college and UW-BC was less expensive than all my other options and I got to live at home, rent free,” Samantha says. “I liked the idea of staying close to home for a while after my high school graduation. I continued working on the farm where I worked all through high school and I had two other part-time jobs. I also knew a lot of people who started at Barron County and transferred later.”

While both ended up on the same academic track, the mother-daughter duo did take slightly different paths before they began college.

Joan worked for five years before deciding to go to college, while Samantha began her college studies right after high school.

“I started with one class at UW-Barron County and realized I could get my associates degree there,” Joan says of her path to college. “Since I was a nontraditional student and I was working full time, Barron County was a great option for me.

“I was able to set my own pace. I began by taking one class while I was working full time. The second semester, I started fulltime and was able to continue working and stay in my hometown. After I earned my associate degree, it was time to transfer to an accredited College of Business, which I did by attending UWEC.”

While she chose to begin her studies in Rice Lake for reasons that differed from her mom’s, they both had the same great experience there, Samantha says.

“I loved my time at Barron County,” Samantha says. “The classes were small, and it was a five-minute drive to campus from my parents' house. I was the secretary on the student government and that got me really involved in campus activities. I liked when I would walk down the hall and I would know all the professors even if I had never had them for a course.”

Knowing she wants a career in business, her plan always has been to earn her bachelor’s degree in a business-related program from UW-Eau-Claire.

The College of Business has a stellar reputation, and her mom and others she knows thrived there, Samantha says of continuing her studies at UW-Eau Claire.

How did she decide to study marketing?

Once again, she points to her mom, who currently works as a senior network pricing analyst for the United Health Group with Optum.

After graduating from UW Eau Claire with a marketing degree, Joan was hired as a telemarketing supervisor for a business in Spooner, and eventually became the general manager of the company, where she worked for 19 years.

“I’ve always looked up to my mom,” Samantha says. “I knew since I was little what her college and career path looked like because I asked a lot of questions. When people started asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, ‘A business woman just like my mom.’ Although I changed my mind a few times before college, I always came back to business marketing. 

“I love helping people and I love the professionalism of business. Marketing seemed like the perfect way to do both. I believe marketers help people by telling a story that wouldn’t otherwise be heard.”

Though it took Samantha bit of time to settle on studying marketing, Joan never doubted her daughter would eventually find her way into the business world.

“When she was a small child, I’d take her to work with me and she said that one day she would run that company,” Joan says. “I guess she realized marketing was a great way to make a living. Samantha has always had a head for business. When she began selling Girl Scout Cookies, she wrote a script and made the telephone calls, which allowed her to sell 300 boxes her first year.”

Just like her experiences on the Barron County campus, Samantha says her time at UW-Eau Claire has exceeded expectations.

Among the highlights of her time as a Blugold, she says, was studying abroad in Lismore, Australia.

“I can’t even explain how much I learned academically, culturally and personally,” Samantha says. “I made so many new friends and had the opportunity to explore the world.”

On campus, Samantha says she also had an exceptional experience as a student in UW-Eau Claire’s College of Business thanks to supportive and engaged faculty.

“I love the College of Business and I have gotten to know a few faculty members who have guided me through the past few years,” Samantha says. “Jennifer Severin was my first marketing professor at UWEC and I still stop by her office to talk. Kranti Dugar helped me see the beauty in marketing and has challenged me academically in the classes I’ve taken with him. He even helped me prepare for three job interviews with a company that now has hired me. I’m so thankful for his guidance.”

After graduation, Samantha will work as an admissions and marketing director at Heritage Lakeside in Rice Lake.

“I will be moving back in with my parents while I get on my feet, just like my mom did after her graduation,” Samantha says. “The similarity here is totally coincidence though. I am blessed that they are welcoming me back with open arms.”

What’s not a coincidence is what Samantha will wear during her May 25 commencement ceremony.

When she walks across the Zorn Arena stage, she will wear the same gown her mom wore when she walked the same stage nearly three decades ago.

 “I know how hard my mom worked to get an education as a nontraditional student at Barron County,” Samantha says. “She paid for all of her own education, too. Graduating by itself is amazing.

“I feel a real sense of pride being able to wear her gown at graduation. I can almost feel the love, determination and commitment through those black threads. I know the young woman who wore it before me turned out to be pretty great, and I’m honored to be wearing it again. I’ve been very blessed to have parents who support me, excellent faculty at UWEC and amazing friends. I am very excited for graduation and wearing my mom's gown makes it all the more special.”

The gesture means a lot to her, as does knowing that her daughter has followed a trail she blazed years ago, Joan says.

“I never dreamed that one day my child would be graduating from my alma mater,” Joan says. “The pride I feel is overwhelming.”

Photo caption: Samantha Gerland (right) has followed in her mother’s academic footsteps, first earning an associate degree from UW-Eau Claire — Barron County, and now her bachelor’s degree in marketing from UW-Eau Claire. During commencement later this month, Samantha will wear the graduation gown her mother, Joan Mianecki Gerland, wore nearly 30 years ago.