Abi Gardiner became the first in her family to receive a bachelor’s degree when she graduated May 8 from University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Beyond the distinction of being a first-generation graduate, Gardiner, of DeForest, achieved something else that anyone would be hard-pressed to match: She finished three degrees at the same time.
Plus, she did it in four years — the standard time most students take to get one bachelor’s.
With degrees in graphic communications, digital marketing technology and information and communication technologies, Gardiner surprised even herself.
“It’s surreal to graduate with three bachelor's degrees,” she said. “What got me through it were the amazing people I've met at UW-Stout and the support I've had. Of course, I faced many long nights.”
Along with full credit loads or more each semester, Gardiner took summer and Winterm courses, and she tested out of several courses. She earned 154 credits, about 30 more than the average needed for one bachelor’s degree, and made the Dean’s List every year.
She came to UW-Stout originally for graphic communications, but she saw the opportunity to do more with her skills and interests. She also earned a minor in business administration.
“I was wanting more education on digital marketing as I started to learn the direction I wanted to take. That's what led me to add my second major,” she said.
“Testing out of courses allowed me to free up time to take additional courses I was interested in, including several photo studio classes and sign language. These are both areas that I was super passionate about, as I've always wanted to learn sign language and I have done photography for years.”
Gardiner credited the support and advice from Shaun Dudek, recently retired associate professor from the graphic communications program, for helping her succeed.
“Abi is an outstanding student with a great passion for learning and also for assisting others. She assisted in our labs and as a mentor with her work on campus,” Dudek said. “The GCOM coursework allows students to expand their educational focus by offering a grouping of credits that, if selected properly, could culminate into a minor degree. Abi selected to remain on campus an extra year to earn the extra credits not for the minors but to complete the two additional as majors.”
Gardiner worked in the GCOM labs her first and third years and also worked in University Housing as a hall manager — while continuing to operate a business she started in high school, Abi Jane Photography, in DeForest, near Madison.
“I also found an amazing group of people while working for University Housing, who have become lifelong friends,” she said.
That’s not all. She received 10 scholarships and the Outstanding Co-op Student of the Year Award; was in Photo Club and the Academic Honors Society; and volunteered at the Dunn County Humane Society.
Gardiner graduated with honors.
With three degrees in hand, she has moved Abi Jane Photography to the Twin Cities and turned it into a full-time job. She does wedding and portrait photography, but she plans to do more, such as support and help educate other aspiring photographers and small business owners.
“I also do social media and marketing consulting with my business for other small businesses. This was not an easy decision and definitely scary, but I've had amazing support and I plan on utilizing what I've learned from my time at UW-Stout toward my business,” she said.
And that’s a lot. “Marketing, management, business and project management, technology, website development, workflows, and more!” she said.