Nancy Sheets Darr

A BGS Alumna worked with Al Gore?
Actually, not only did Nancy Sheets-Darr work with Al Gore, she was chosen to head the Vice President’s Reinventing Government Team during the Clinton Administration. A team designed to reinvent “procurement, logistics, and administrative systems for the Federal Government.  These “streamlining” changes cut red tape and made sweeping improvements in how Government did business.”

Nancy Sheets-Darr has an authoritative voice but a very warm and open air about her. It isn’t really surprising given the uneven trajectory of her life: from wife and mother to single parent; from clerical work to entrepreneur and Executive Vice President of a private-sector company. Her ambitious nature is certainly clear in the no-nonsense way she approaches conversation which makes her complete lack of pretension all the more impressive; especially given the fact that her resume includes working with the Vice President of the United States.

Nancy is a proud graduate of Western Illinois University’s Bachelor of Arts in General Studies (then Board of Governors) Degree Program class of 1990 and one of our most distinguished alums, receiving the “WIU Alumni Achievement Award” for her leadership accomplishments in public service in 1996.

Her history with Western Illinois University is no less interesting than the rest of her life. Twenty-five years after she took her first college class at Western, Nancy decided it was time to complete her degree.

I selected WIU because I already earned some core credits when I was an on campus student at WIU, back when no one wore jeans to class, and we crammed three to a room in Bennett Hall.  Moreover, WIU accepted ACE-accredited courses as well as courses completed at other colleges/universities, and awarded some credits for documented and certified work performance.

In her research for online degree programs, she also found Western’s BGS Program to be better established and because it was a fully accredited public university, it would also provide a more reputable degree. Nancy was grateful for the existence of programs like BGS that offer the flexibility to allow her a schedule and time frame of her making. It was key, in fact. It technically took Nancy decades to finish her degree after a false start.  As Nancy says, “it took me one husband, two sons, three root canals, six puppies, six colleges, six universities, and 26 years to finally complete my degree.”  She also readily admits that it wasn’t an easy road.Of course this is a story many of us are familiar with.

…it was challenging to be a single mother, work full time, and take college classes wherever I lived… While studying those 26 years, I had to be creative in finding time balance responsibilities of home, work, and school.  For example, rather than offering delicious home-made food on our dining room table, our table was stacked with books, notebooks, lap top computers, and papers.  I was a total nerd: I studied on airplanes, buses, trains, as a passenger in cars, during lunch breaks, and in restaurants – just wherever I could.

But after years of taking classes here, there and everywhere between, Nancy had reached that place where she was ready to get it over with and behind her, and to do this as quickly as she possibly could. Nancy decided that she would finish the degree within one year. When asked why the short time-frame, Nancy said that three things in particular dictated that time-frame: the need to help her sons pay for college; the recognition of the fact that having a degree would help to further advance her career; and the desire to finish her degree before her sons finished theirs.

She was impressed with the integrity of the program and with the way she was received by the staff at the Bachelor of Arts in General Studies Degree Program office. “Important to me was the fact the people in the WIU extended learning office were nice to me.  They did not snub their noses at me because I was not a traditional classroom student wanting to earn my degree.”   She credits her BGS advisor with helping her to achieve the goal of completing the degree within a relatively short amount of time despite the fact that Nancy was told by multiple educators that finishing that many credits within one year while working full-time was impossible.   “Paula was an honest and communicative advisor. She was committed to helping me….both of us believed I could get the degree done quickly” In the end, of course, they were right. Nancy completed her Bachelor’s degree in 1990 before either of her sons finished their degrees and was selected into the Federal Senior Executive Service “literally within weeks of being awarded the B.A.”

 Another reason to choose Western Illinois University after researching all of her distance learning options was because it could offer her the same quality degree that would be earned by any of the students taking courses on the physical campus.  The process of actually earning this degree would only serve to increase her respect for Western as she found its faculty to be fully committed to providing an academically rich and rigorous education to distance learners. When faced with questions of the integrity of earning a degree online, Nancy was ready to defend her choice and to subsume any assumptions; and having carefully researched this route she was aware of the very real concerns about earning a degree online.

I encountered some initial prejudices stemming from my earning a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies rather than from the traditional four year classroom degree.  But, those prejudices diminished when people realized my degree was awarded through a fully accredited public institution – not a degree mill.

All of Nancy’s hard work, preparation and steadfast commitment paid off immediately. ”Literally within a few weeks of being awarded the B.A., I was selected into the Federal Senior Executive Service.  My first position was Executive Director for Technology at the Department of Commerce; then I was detailed to the Office of the President of the United States.”

In 1964, Nancy began her career as a GS-1 clerk typist at the Rock Island Arsenal , “the lowest possible grade in Federal Service…[she] completed [her] Federal career in 1997 at the highest level in Federal Service – as a member of the Senior Executive Service, leading and managing national contracting programs.”  Throughout those 33 years, Nancy “held 25 progressively more responsible positions in the Federal contracting/logistics field. Those positions were held in assignments for the Army, Air Force, and Veterans Affairs in eight different cities.”  Now in her sixties, Nancy is still working. She started her own consulting firm in 2000. “My company prepares, negotiates, and administers contracts in the healthcare industry.” Most of the contracts are to the benefit of current and retired members of the military.  “It is a wonderful feeling to know I can help those, who protected us.”

We at Western Illinois University, and especially the Bachelor of Arts in General Studies Degree Program, are proud to be able to count an alumna like Nancy among our ranks. We’re also grateful that Nancy could take time out of her busy world to share her story with us.

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