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Army vet conquers battle for college degrees at BGSU

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    Despite serious injuries, Tanya Schardt persevered and won her degrees in history, German, and geography.

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    Students move their tassels from right to left as they become alumni of Bowling Green State University. A total of 2,193 students turned their tassels at three ceremonies this weekend.

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    Thomas Snitch, commencement speaker, told graduates at the Stroh Center that they can ‘compete with anyone on the planet’ with an education from BGSU.

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    Tanya Schardt of Fremont sustained major injuries in Iraq in 2007 and still must undergo surgeries.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF TANYA SCHARDT

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Despite serious injuries, Tanya Schardt persevered and won her degrees in history, German, and geography.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

BOWLING GREEN — As commencement speaker Thomas Snitch exhorted Bowling Green State University’s new graduates Saturday not to underestimate themselves, his message surely was not lost on Tanya Schardt.

The Army veteran from Fremont nearly lost her life in Iraq on Halloween, 2007, when an improvised explosive device struck the armored Humvee in which she and four colleagues rode. Two were killed, two suffered minor injuries, and Ms. Schardt spent the better part of the next two years in hospitals.

She had massive internal injuries and a traumatic brain injury that left her with short-term memory problems. College had never been a plan — she joined the military in 1999 and planned to make it her career — and she was skeptical when her mother, Marcia Rahrig, encouraged her to give it a try.

“I pretty much shouldn’t have been here,” Ms. Schardt, 38, said, referring to BGSU and the spring commencement ceremony where she received bachelor’s degrees in history, German, and geography. She achieved a 3.2 grade-point average despite the challenges.

“It took me five years and working with my professors, but I did it,” she said. “I hope to show people that doctors don’t know everything, and people don’t know everything, and anything is possible.”

PHOTO GALLERY: BGSU 2015 spring commencement ceremony

Walking with crutches because of problems with her legs, Ms. Schardt was one of 2,193 candidates who crossed the stage inside BGSU’s Stroh Center during three ceremonies this weekend.

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Students move their tassels from right to left as they become alumni of Bowling Green State University. A total of 2,193 students turned their tassels at three ceremonies this weekend.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Mr. Snitch, an alumnus who received his undergraduate degree in Chinese and Asian Studies in 1975, told graduates of the college of arts and sciences that when he started work on postgraduate degrees at American University in Washington, he was surrounded by Ivy Leaguers.

“I was scared to death that a kid from Bowling Green couldn’t make it, but you know what? I very quickly realized I was absolutely dead wrong,” he said. “What I’ve learned is, students go to Harvard and they read the same books you have, or they go to Yale and they write the same papers you do. And when they go to Princeton, they take the same exams that you have.”

BGSU alumni have added benefits, he said: a Midwestern ethos that values hard work and honesty, along with good instructors who challenge students to excel.

“It will take you some time to realize this, but at Bowling Green you have received a world-class education,” said Mr. Snitch, whose varied career includes directing an international team that works on anti-poaching and wildlife crime issues. “You can compete with anyone on this planet with the education you have received here.”

Ms. Schardt credited several of her BGSU professors for providing  the encouragement she needed.

Two of them whom she named — Karen Johnson-Webb, associate professor of geography, and Walter Grunden, associate professor of history — said they knew Ms. Schardt was a veteran but had no idea of the trauma she’d experienced.

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Thomas Snitch, commencement speaker, told graduates at the Stroh Center that they can ‘compete with anyone on the planet’ with an education from BGSU.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

“I knew pieces ... of her story, but I had no idea of what she’d been through,” Ms. Johnson-Webb said. “It was just amazing to me that she was a veteran, but then to have learned what she’s overcome and being such a good student. She’s really special.”

Through BGSU’s office of disability services, Ms. Schardt qualified for “time and a half” to take exams, but Mr. Grunden said she “was never one to ask for special treatment. That’s what was really impressive to me. If anyone could have, she could have, but she just said, ‘I’m a student here.’ She never made an issue of it.”

She sat up front, asked questions, went to instructors’ office hours to talk and ask more questions, and generally did the things that make professors recognize a good student.

“She is something special. She is,” Mr. Grunden said. “I’ve had a lot of veterans in classes, and some of them can work through it, and some of them can’t. She just worked really hard. I really can’t sing her praises enough.”

For her part, Ms. Schardt said she worked three times as hard as her classmates — recording lectures, listening to them on her commute to and from Fremont, making note cards, studying, and studying more.

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Tanya Schardt of Fremont sustained major injuries in Iraq in 2007 and still must undergo surgeries.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TANYA SCHARDT Enlarge

Her friend Renee Miller, who met Ms. Schardt when she was a graduate student in German, said it wasn’t Ms. Schardt’s short-term memory problems that presented the most challenges.

“It was people doubting her ability,” Ms. Miller said. “They don’t realize that she can do it. She’s just amazing. She’s a fighter.”

A very proud Mrs. Rahrig said her youngest daughter is determined. Period.

“She doesn’t want people feeling sorry for her,”she said. “If there’s a way, she’ll do it. She’ll get it done.”

Ms. Schardt has three tattoos on her legs, which are set for more surgery now that school is done. The tattoos are “all meaningful,” she said, explaining that one was in honor of a colonel who died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001; another she and her fellow soldiers got before being deployed to Kuwait as a symbol of protection, and the third was in honor of her father, Richard Rahrig, who died last July.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without him,” she said. “He would talk to me every day as I drove home from school. He was always there for me.”

Though she’s toying with the idea of graduate school, Ms. Schardt said what she’d really like to do is speak to groups, classes, and other veterans.

“I’m hoping to let people know that if they have a goal and they think they can’t do it, yes they can,” she said. “If they want to do it and work hard, there is nothing stopping them.”

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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