In 2010, Amber Popplewell was a single mother living in northwest Wisconsin with aspirations of furthering her education and starting a career. “I was raising [daughter Kennedy] all by myself, so I thought, if I’m going to do this, I need to do this the right way,” explains Popplewell.
Not knowing exactly what career she wanted to pursue, Popplewell was sure of two things: she wanted to do something important, and she wanted to help people. She visited Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) and spoke with someone who told her about the school’s new Human Services program to be starting that upcoming fall. She was sold and immediately began taking classes.
As a student, Popplewell also worked for WITC. “It was incredible for me,” she says, “being a single parent and having the love and support of people that I worked for who really championed and cheered me on.”
Between both working and taking classes there, she was no stranger to the faces and surroundings at WITC — and neither was her young daughter. “She was so used to hanging out in the Learning Resource Center while I did homework until late,” she says. “I’m pretty sure she read every book on the children’s bookshelf there.”
Her time at WITC quickly turned into more than an education. “It was like a family,” adds Popplewell. “All of these people didn’t need to have interest in a kid who was constantly following me around, but they did.” It was also during her time at WITC when she met and started dating Jeremy Thiessen, who she ended up marrying last summer. The two were married by now-retired WITC psychology instructor Deb Emery, who performed the ceremony in August 2015. "She not only helped change my life through education, but she also helped me marry my best friend."
Besides working and taking classes, Popplewell also volunteered for the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse (CASDA) for a year where she would become an intern in the sexual assault program. “The education I was receiving [at WITC] felt like it was something that I needed to return to the community I got it from,” she explains. “I felt passionate to apply my education to the community I was living in.”
As she was approaching graduation in May of 2013, “There was an opening as Shelter Case Manager and CASDA held the position open for 30 days until I graduated,” says Popplewell. She took the position and two and a half years later transitioned into the Sexual Assault program where she is now program coordinator.
As for her future, “I’d love to say that we worked ourselves out of a job and that sexual assault doesn’t exist anymore, but that’s not likely to be the case,” says Popplewell. “The work that we’re doing is what keeps me moving forward. I want to see that there’s a positive change for the future of my child and her community.”
Looking back on her time at WITC, “My experience there is really not even something that can be summed up into words. I appreciated that I wasn’t the only non-traditional student, and the dedication of the staff,” she says. “Most people that I run into think that I have a Master’s Degree,” she concludes. “Nope. I went to a fantastic, accelerated program at WITC.”