Dennis W. Burke

"Without the help of CEW+, I would not have finished my degree."

Friends of the Center will remember that, in 2018, CEW+ made a significant change by adding a “+” to its name, symbolizing its dedication to serving nontraditional students of all genders. This shift in direction was not entirely new for the Center, as it has supported all nontraditional students in various ways over the years. One vivid example is the story of Dennis W. Burke, who received assistance from the Center and graduated from the University of Michigan with an undergraduate degree in general studies. Dennis completed his degree thanks in part to the Center’s Evening Program — a Center-sponsored program that offered evening classes for nontraditional students between the late 1970s and mid-1990s. This program, which continued until 1996 when the university incorporated evening classes into its regular curriculum, offered numerous courses across various departments in the College of Languages, Sciences, and Arts. Initially aimed at women returning to college, the Evening Program eventually expanded to include men with scheduling constraints that prevented them from attending classes during traditional working hours. Dennis’s story highlights the crucial importance of supporting all nontraditional students.

Dennis and his future wife, Constance, first crossed paths as undergraduates at the University of Michigan in the late 1970s. They soon married, and it was decided that Dennis would enter the workforce while Connie pursued her degree. Although this arrangement may have appeared unconventional at the time, Connie had a clear passion for nursing, and neither Dennis nor Connie wanted her to give up her dream. Connie was able to graduate with her nursing degree while pregnant with the couple’s first child. 

Meanwhile, Dennis joined General Motors to support their growing family. However, his desire to obtain a degree from U-M remained strong. Unfortunately, he encountered a significant barrier as all classes at U-M were exclusively held during regular working hours. Dennis longed to complete his degree because he noticed that lacking one hindered his prospects for promotion at General Motors, regardless of his personal qualities. 

Thankfully, he discovered the Evening Program. Dennis embarked on his educational journey, gradually taking one class at a time until he finally earned his bachelor’s degree in 1990. Dennis attests that the degree immediately opened doors for him, facilitating a smooth transition to more advanced positions in the automotive industry. He fondly recalls the intellectual stimulation he experienced during his education, particularly highlighting his enjoyment of political science, statistics, and computer science.

Reflecting on the past, Dennis remembers that some colleagues at work found it unusual that Dennis’s wife worked and that Dennis was responsible for picking up their children from school. However, Dennis considered it completely normal and appreciated Connie’s commitment to nursing. He states, “When I met her, it was clear that she would be working.” Connie was passionate about her career, and she dedicated nearly 35 years of her career to Michigan Medicine as a nurse working in pediatrics.

Dennis is grateful for the Center’s invaluable support in completing his degree. Even in its earliest years, the Center served as a pioneer of inclusivity, assisting any student facing unique educational challenges in achieving their graduation goals. Dennis firmly believes that the focus in higher education should be on helping students cross the finish line. Nontraditional students like himself have distinctive concerns that require attention, and CEW+ remains fully committed to supporting these students throughout their academic journeys. Dennis expresses deep gratitude to the Center, emphasizing, “Without the help of CEW+, I would not have finished my degree.”

Dennis BurkeDennis Burke