Erin Gogolin is hardly unfamiliar with how commencement works. The Traverse City native and Class of 2010 alumna of Elk Rapids High School has been there and done that. She has traveled a long, winding road to the Ferris State University College of Arts, Sciences and Education’ Friday, May 10 commencement ceremony – and a second trip across the stage to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Gogolin’s journey to becoming a fourth-generation Ferris-educated teacher is one with more than a few twists and turns en route to a gratifying end.
In 2014, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Information Security and Intelligence from Ferris’ College of Business. But, she had a junior-year moment when questions began swirling around in her head. Had she chosen the path that suited her best? She wondered. Nevertheless, she persevered to finish the bachelor’s degree she started. After graduation, Gogolin rolled up her sleeves and prepared for work in the real world, for life after college.
Still, that nagging junior-year feeling continued gnawing at her until it reached a point, ultimately, she could no longer ignore it.
“My junior year I started thinking, ‘uh oh. I don’t know if this is what I want to do.’ I stuck with it, though, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “Then, when I was working my first job, I was an information security analyst, but I knew it wasn’t for me. It was being at a computer, and that was it. That wasn’t fulfilling at all, for me. I remembered sitting there for a lot of hours thinking ‘what else do I want to do?’”
Gogolin took a more in-depth look, at herself, assessing her skills and considering her interests while figuring out where her heart and passion were steering her.
“I thought, ‘I’ve always liked writing, I’ve always loved reading, and I thought Spanish
was pretty cool,” she said. “I had a Spanish minor, and I thought, OK, what can I
do with that?”
In August 2018, Erin traveled to Costa Rica, in Central America – a return trip.
“I wanted to learn more about Spanish and the culture. That summer semester, I decided to go back to Costa Rica and organize something, myself. So, I went back to live with the same family I had gotten to know before and stayed in contact with. They were super excited to have me back. I went to the immersion school, again, and volunteered at an orphanage, nearby. That was the best experience I’ve ever had in my life. I learned so much more, being hands on. When I was at the orphanage, I worked mostly with the kids on their homework. All of it was in Spanish except for their English homework. I did a little teaching of everything there. Those kids were ranging in ages from 3 to 18. All of the kids were there because they were removed from domestic violence situations. It was so hard, but they were so happy to have someone who cared about them.”
Gogolin’s experiences in Costa Rica began during a 2012 Ferris Study Abroad trip when she first met the family she would bond with – back when Gogolin admits to barely speaking Spanish. “I could say, ‘Hi, I’m Erin,’ but that was about it.”
Following her 2012 trip to Costa Rica, a unique opportunity flashed before her. Erin’s father, Greg Gogolin, a professor in Ferris’ Information Security and Intelligence program, received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach, in Fall 2013, at the University of Chile, in Santiago. In Chile, Greg taught undergraduate and graduate courses. At the time, Greg said, “The University of Chile has a strong Cryptography program, so I am looking to learn how to leverage that expertise and reflect it back into the Information Security and Intelligence program at Ferris. The University of Chile doesn’t have a digital forensics program so they can benefit from our program at Ferris.”
Greg didn’t travel to Chile, alone. “Erin lived with me, in Chile, during my Fulbright, and she spent her time in a Spanish immersion school,” he said.
“I really wanted to go,” Erin recalled. “So, I went with him while I took online classes at Ferris. I went to an immersion school, to learn Spanish. I think I did that for 11 weeks, and my Spanish just zoomed.”
That Spanish-proficiency zoom did not occur unnoticed.
Said Greg, “The Spanish Department will tell you that Erin’s Spanish is quite remarkable.”
Erin’s future path was likewise becoming remarkably clearer.
Erin’s focus was sharpening as the pieces to her life puzzle began to fit. Moving between jobs, ensuring she could pay her bills, Gogolin accepted substitute teaching opportunities in Elk Rapids, Grand Traverse and Kalkaska. She worked K-12, pretty much any subject – though she sought available opportunities for English and Spanish classes. Not only was teaching becoming more attractive – not to mention Spanish and English, but Gogolin further zeroed in on a secondary education path.
Gogolin returned to Ferris, in January 2019, after leaving a brief stop at Grand Valley State University to study in Costa Rica. This spring, Gogolin will graduate from Ferris cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Science in Spanish for the Professions.
This time, it’s different.
“Last time, I was excited to be done just to be done. I wasn’t thrilled about my future career. I knew I had a job, at that point. I wasn’t super pumped up about it,” Gogolin said. “This time, I feel a lot more excited about graduating, and I feel like it’s a bigger deal for me, personally, because I am accomplishing something I truly want to do, and something I feel super passionate about. I’ve been in school for seven years, total. It has taken me a long time, because of the requirements and because I didn’t want to take out a bunch of loans.”
Thanks to proper planning, using resources available to her and money management, Gogolin’s expenses were covered, and she will graduate with no student loan debt.
Erin is a fourth-generation Ferris graduate and a fourth-generation teacher educated at Ferris, joining Janet (Folkert) Boerman, Luanne (Boerman) Gogolin and her father, Greg Gogolin. Her great-grandmother, Janet, had university founder Woodbridge N. Ferris as a professor and she later became a teacher in Fremont. Erin’s grandmother, Luanne, was a Biology professor at Ferris for more than 25 years.
The Gogolin tradition endures.
This time, carrying on the Gogolin family tradition of Ferris academic excellence is even sweeter, for Erin.
“This is way more fulfilling,” she said, who officially earns her third and fourth Ferris degrees on Friday, May 10. “This is something that I’m so passionate about, and so it feels like a bigger deal for me this time around.”