In some ways, Tim Wagner’s success was his undoing. The founder and president of a flourishing association management and publishing company, he logs 100,000 miles of air travel each year serving a growing client list. He has always emphasized the importance of education with his three children, and so he was taken aback when his eldest son announced, after finishing his freshman year in high school, that he didn’t plan to go to college. His reason: His dad succeeded without a college degree. Why shouldn’t he?
“I was horrified,” Wagner says. “I thought the only way I could really demonstrate to him the importance of college was to complete college myself. And if I were going to do that, I wanted to find a university that was up to the caliber of the schools I would like my kids to attend.”
Wagner turned to UVA’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) program, which combines two years at selected community colleges and two years at the University. A dedicated and determined student, he took just four-and-a-half years to complete his degree, starting with his first class at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC).
An unexpected thing happened along the way: Wagner discovered that he loved being a student. “I thought that getting my degree was just going to be work,” Wagner recalls. “As it turns out, I really loved school.” He started to look forward to discussing assignments—particularly in history and literature—with classmates who were thoughtful and interested in the subject. And he found he really enjoyed writing. “I am amazed by how much I got into it,” he says.
Although many of his classes were online or at the NVCC campus, Wagner was determined to have an authentic UVA experience. He did so by taking intensive January-Term classes with traditional UVA students. One of the courses he enrolled in was "Berlin and the Geography of Memory", which took him to Germany for two weeks. Wagner says. “I thought it would be really interesting to go to Berlin to study German history.” He was particularly impressed by the opportunity to meet with former East Germans and learn about their perspectives on reunification.
Wagner also welcomed the opportunity to spend time with young UVA students. “It was fun for a change to live like a college student and get to know my classmates,” he says. “They were not unlike my own kids. They wanted to have fun but they were also very serious about their own work.”
And Wagner’s investment in education has also influenced his own kids. His eldest son went off to college shortly after Tim walked the Lawn in 2014.