BIS Student Continues What He Started at UVA Twenty-Nine Years Earlier

Headshot of UVA Student Sean Whipkey

Like many high school students, Sean Whipkey applied to four-year colleges in his Senior year. And, as student who had performed solidly over the previous four years, he was ecstatic to be included among the small percentage accepted into University of Virginia’s College of Arts and Sciences. 

Whipkey loved the environment that welcomed him on Grounds. He joined the Virginia Pep Band, loved going to football games, met new friends and had fun. Socially, Whipkey was soaring. But academics were a different story. He felt unprepared for the challenging atmosphere; he lacked direction for the future or study skills to get him there. 

A few semesters in, Whipkey had another problem on his hands. Working to pay his way through college, he was quickly running out of money and found himself unable to register for classes while he was waiting for financial aid funding to come through. 

Meanwhile, off Grounds, the era was booming. Sean found an IT job and it seemed like a solution to his financial troubles. He left school, hoping that he could make enough money to return. Years ticked away as Whipkey continued along his career path, but he never lost hope of one day completing the degree he had started. When a job took him to Northern Virginia, Whipkey knew he had to push his dream back a few years, thinking retirement may be the only time he could return to Charlottesville and resume his classes.

On the internet one day, Whipkey stumbled across an ad for UVA’s School of Continuing & Professional Studies and realized through its online program, he could complete his undergraduate degree while living in Northern Virginia and working in his job. Whipkey's company supported his decision, and his supervisor penned his recommendation letter. 

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Whipkey enrolled in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program in fall 2022. “It’ll be a long process,” Whipkey admitted, but shared that with the help of his advisor, he has a plan mapped out to graduate in 2026. “I’m in a much better place as a student now than I was when I first started at UVA. I’m better at studying, better at lectures, better at writing papers. I’ve even gotten competitive with getting good grades,” he remarked.

Whipkey added that supportive faculty who understand the obligations adult learners are facing have been critical to his success, sharing that they have helped him work around a few situations that limited his time for school. 

“I have a renewed sense of excitement about academics,” Whipkey reflected, observing that he is enjoying the opportunity to explore topics that don’t relate to his current job and hear different perspectives his classmates bring from their diverse backgrounds. In fact, the experience is encouraging him to do other academic things. “I’ve felt good enough about myself that I figured I could start to learn a foreign language outside of school,” he said. 

It's not that it’s been a piece of cake, he’ll tell you. He has to be diligent, he has to plan his time, and occasionally make sacrifices - missing a work dinner for class or skipping out on some time to relax with his girlfriend for schoolwork. “But, I’m really enjoying the challenge,” he shared. And, even if it happens thirty years later than he originally planned, he can’t wait until the day he gets to walk the lawn and join his friends in calling himself a UVA alumnus. “It’s going to be an awesome celebration,” he said with a smile.