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Rich Wolfe

Photo courtesy of: Rich Wolfe

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Non-traditional student succeeds in reinventing himself

Choose Ohio First Scholarship helps Rich Wolfe earn bachelor's degree

Born in 1964 and working in construction for the past 25 years, Rich Wolfe does not fit the typical mold of a college student chasing a bachelor's degree.

Wolfe will receive his degree in computer science with a bioinformatics certificate and math minor with thousands of other Ohio University graduates on June 9, something he thought would never happen after receiving his associate's degree from Penn State in 1984.

"Originally when I went to Penn State I wanted to end up working with computers," said Wolf. "Then I met a guy working in construction and figured I'd be able to work my way to the top. But then with the economy about four years ago, construction was one of the first things to fall. I was working at a job and it wasn't that great. All the other jobs that I applied for, everyone wanted an engineering degree or some sort of bachelor's degree and I didn't have that."

Wolfe, originally from Beaver Falls, Pa., had been moving around Pennsylvania and Ohio since 1984 due to work availability and needs. He finally settled in Logan, Ohio with his wife and two 14-year-old children.

"I find it interesting that while they're (his children) going to school, I'm also in school," said Wolfe.

Wolfe was able to return to school through the Choose Ohio First Bioinformatics Scholarship, which has more than $9 million in support. Supported by state contributions and the 12 universities in the Ohio Consortium for Bioinformatics, it provides 150 scholarships each year for bioinformatics students.

The scholarships promote interdisciplinary learning and include students from both the computer science and the biological areas. That way, biologists learn enough about computer science to explore and navigate the applications of bioinformatics, and that knowledge puts them a step ahead when seeking employment.

"To me bioinformatics is like an application in computer science," said Wolfe. "There seems to be a lot of opportunity because of medical research. I really like doing it. It happened to be a good fit."

Wolfe has worked hard to obtain his bachelor's degree to reinvent himself as a more marketable person in the workforce. However, this also has provided some challenges.

"I think when you're older it's harder," said Wolfe. "When you are right out of high school, you're still in tuned with that education process. And I didn't realize it when I started. I mean, I haven't had calculus for 25 years and my computer science classes at Penn State are like primitive now."

Over the past four years, Wolfe has spent much of his time conducting research in the Bioinformatics Lab. His most recent research is a project for the Air Force, attempting to find genetic attributes for intelligence in war dogs. He has also conducted some cancer research.

Wolfe has been accepted into graduate school at Ohio University, where he will pursue a master's degree in computer science and bioinformatics. Upon his completion of school, he would like to work in Columbus, Ohio at a research company.

Although Wolfe is proud of his accomplishment, he urges younger students to not follow his same path.

"I would suggest that you get your degree right out of high school," he said. "I've been fortunate to be able to come back, but I can see those unable to do the same."