Submarine--USS William H. BatesWhen Mike Baracani of Oglesby, Illinois, began classes at UIS, he probably didn’t realize quite how much of a challenge it would be for him to juggle a fulltime job, commute two hours a day, be a good dad to his kids and husband to his wife, all while taking online business classes at UIS.

But he’s managed to do it all, and he’s done so with a great cause—to help people get where they want to be financially.

First a stint in the military

Mike graduated from Hall High School in Spring Valley, Illinois, in 1991 and went straight into the military. “College just wasn’t for me,” he says.

After basic training in San Diego, California, Mike attended Torpedoman’s Mat “A” School in Orlando, FL.

That convinced him he wanted to serve on submarines, so he attended submarine school in Groton, CT. “From there, I received orders for Pearl Harbor in Hawaii,” he says, where he served on a nuclear-powered submarine named the William H. Bates SSN-680.

Navy emblemAmong his deployments, two lasted six months, with the submarines staying underwater first 63 days and then 56 days without surfacing

“My submarine was one of only four in Hawaii that was capable of conducting operations with Navy Seals aboard,” Mike says. “It was an honor to serve my country.”

Mike gained more than experience, however. He says, “My time in the military made me become an adult right away.”

Even more important, it was a buddy in the military who first pointed him toward a career in finance.

This friend set aside 20-25% of his paycheck each week to invest. He showed Mike the basics and got Mike so interested in these lessons that years later, when it came time to choose a major—and a future career—he decided to put his buddy’s lessons to practice for other people.

A steady job and a family

After getting out of the military, Mike tried college briefly, but he still wasn’t ready. Instead he took a job as a delivery driver in Bloomington, Illinois, and he’s still with the same company—Negwar Materials, a drywall distributor.

In 2004, Mike began talking with his wife, a licensed day care provider, about going back to school so that he could take advantage of the GI Bill. With her encouragement, he enrolled at the Illinois Valley Community College and majored in finance. He finished in 2006.

“I graduated in May,” he says, “and my daughter was born in June. I took a couple of years off from classes to spend time with her and help my wife.”

A degree in Business from UIS

Mike’s son was born in 2009, and in 2010 he knew it was time to finish his degree. He began looking for a program where he could get his bachelor’s degree online. The counselors at IVCC said UIS had a great program, especially in Business Administration.

“I did some research and liked what I saw,” Mike says. “It’s been a great school for me. I’ve learned a lot.”

Mike has continued working fulltime throughout his college experience, both at community college and at UIS. With his family responsibilities and a job that requires him to commute 120 miles round trip each day, it’s hard to imagine a student with a more demanding schedule, but he’s pulling it off. He’s scheduled to graduate in December 2016.

“My goal while attending UIS is to be the best student that I can be,” he says. “I want to show my kids the importance of a college diploma and to prove to myself that I can accomplish this goal despite how busy my life is.”

The Joe Wilkins Veterans Scholarship

This year, Mike and his family have received some financial help from the Joe Wilkins Veterans Scholarship, created in honor of Professor Emeritus Joe Wilkins, who taught Management in the College of Business and Management at UIS.

A jet pilot, Joe Wilkins is a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran, who rose to the rank of Captain in the United States Air Force. During his life, he has run marathons, scuba dived, and done parachute jumping. He has also volunteered for many organizations and during his retirement, has been a volunteer Backcountry Patroller for the National Park Service in the arctic wilderness of northern Alaska.

The scholarship named in Joe Wilkins’ honor is for graduate or undergraduate students, with preference given to business students who have served in the military.

“This scholarship is truly a blessing,” Mike says. “Attending college at my age with a full time job and a young family is difficult enough, and the costs to attend can be overwhelming. It is an honor to receive this scholarship, and my family and I really appreciate it.”

A future in finance

After Mike graduates, he plans for a career as a financial advisor.

Since his time in the military, Mike has heard of many people who have found themselves in financial hardships. Many have lost their retirement or their houses because of financial problems.

“I just hate to see that,” he says. “What I want to see is people growing their money and being able to retire happy. I want to be the person who helps people create those futures—to help them get to where they want to be financially.”

Thanks to technology and a good online program, help from family, and his own drive and determination, Mike is almost there.

“It’s never too late to learn,” he says. “People can get a degree exactly where they are—even with a family and a fulltime job.”

Mike should know!


At UIS, anyone can make a gift that adds to the size of a scholarship award. We welcome your gift in any amount to the Joe Wilkins Veterans Scholarship. Use the link to give safely online.