WATERLOO | Darryl Micou has taken a slow and steady approach to his education at Hawkeye Community College.
The 50-year-old started there in 2009, more than 25 years after dropping out of college. Typically, he has taken a part-time load of two to three classes per semester.
"My idea with that is I don't want to set me up for failure," said Micou, who strives to maintain a balance between education and the other parts of his life.
When challenged by a subject, like a summer class in macroeconomics, he just works harder. He studied for the class into the evening and took additional time getting to know the instructor.
"I treated it like a job," he said. "I was not going to give up on (that) class."
Micou, who will graduate with his associate's degree this spring, returned to college with the help of the Educational Opportunity Center at the University of Northern Iowa Center for Urban Education in downtown Waterloo.
Center staff worked with Micou apply for college and led him through the "daunting, confusing" financial aid process, said Kathy Martin, assistant director of the EOC.
That's just a portion of the services the Educational Opportunity Center provides for people in Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Chickasaw and Tama counties. It is able to work with about 1,950 people during the current fiscal year.
People can get help with career assessments, financial and economic literacy, defaulted student loans and college transfers. In addition, it's a point of contact for those who want to earn their high school equivalency diploma, a service offered at Hawkeye's Metro Center.
"The majority of the individuals that we help are people who have never been to college before," said Martin. Or, like Micou, they want to return to college after dropping out. "And we can help them go to any college."
Ready to finish
Micou is one of many nontraditional students served by the EOC, Martin noted. "He, age-wise, is very typical of the men and women we work with."
In other ways, Micou stands out. "He's just always been a very determined man," said Martin. He "has always had that goal to go back and finish what he started."
Martin recalls him stopping at UNI-CUE years ago to seek guidance about returning to college. Later, he brought grandchildren to the center for tutoring.
"That's when I came down to UNI-CUE to get them some help," he said, and started to talk with Martin. "And that's when they said, 'You need to go back to school, Darryl.'"
It had always been in the back of Micou's mind to return to college. "I need an education, I need to finish what I started," he realized.
Micou was a state champion wrestler for East High School, graduating in 1983. That fall he headed to Huron (S.D) College on a wrestling scholarship, but "really wasn't prepared to go to college."
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Micou's girlfriend got pregnant while he was back in Waterloo during Christmas break. The couple decided to marry.
"My parents always taught me if you have a child you need to take care of your responsibility," he recalled. At the time, Micou thought dropping out of college was the only way to do that. "I should've stayed in school and taken care of my responsibility."
Instead, he worked two jobs. He made parts for John Deere through another local company during the day and flipped burgers at a fast food restaurant in the evening. He and his wife had another daughter in 1987.
Eventually, Micou gained some sales experience and left Iowa in 1991 for seven years, first settling in Connecticut and then Chicago. He worked for furniture stores first as a salesman and then as a manager in Chicago.
When Micou returned home in 1998, friends helped him get a custodial position with Waterloo Community Schools.
Micou was diagnosed in 2000 with myasthenia gravis, a chronic condition that causes muscles to tire and weaken easily. It manifested in him with fits that would cause the muscles on one side of his body to stop functioning. "It was so discouraging to me," said Micou.
Along with using medication, he had his thymus gland removed to better control the condition. In addition, he needed seven months of rehabilitation. The condition is under control now.
Never too old
During his time at Hawkeye, Micou has taken courses in marketing management. After earning his associate's degree, he plans on enrolling in one of Mount Mercy University's programs on the Hawkeye campus for a bachelor's degree. He hopes to find another job in sales or management.
"I believe that I need that degree," he said, noting it will make him more of an asset.
"Darryl brings a very high level of maturity," said Mark Ryan, an HCC assistant professor or business and Micou's academic adviser. "Darryl is extremely conscientious. His ability to collaborate and work with other students clearly set him apart."
Ruben Carrion, director of the Trio program at Hawkeye, admires Micou's classwork devotion. "He wants to learn, he wants to go beyond the minimal requirements," said Carrion. He said Micou took a keyboarding class that he could have bypassed with an online tutorial.
Micou has been getting academic assistance through Trio since starting at Hawkeye. Staff is available to work with students on any subject. It can serve 160 students.
The program serves first-generation college students eligible for federal financial aid and with a documented physical disability.
"We certainly can do a lot for them here," said Carrion. "We get to know students on an individual basis (and) help them where they need it most. Darryl has certainly made good use of our area."
Micou said he loves college and has fully embraced his grandfather's advice to "grab the bull by the horns." He now shares that advice with many -- especially young people.
"There's no perfect situation in life where you can go back to school," he said. "You're never too old to get that degree. It's never too late to get started."