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Sowden to Complete His Art Degree — 26 Years Later

Published Wednesday, February 23, 2022
Jerry Sowden
Jerry Sowden

Twenty-six years later, Jerry Sowden figures it’s time to finish his Southwest Minnesota State University degree.

Sowden grew up in Marshall, graduated from MHS and enrolled at SMSU, where he pursued an Art degree. Blessed with a photographer’s eye, he also worked at the Marshall Independent newspaper, back when he would load film into his camera. “I was working full-time and going to school full-time,” he recalls. As time passed, “I was going to school part-time, and finally cut back to just work. I didn’t finish my degree.”

He took a job half way across the country, at the Derrick newspaper in Oil City, Penn., where he was an award-winning photographer. He also shot photos for two nearby sister publications, in Franklin and Clarion, Penn.

He’s 11 credits shy of his Art degree, and is taking seven credits this spring semester, 2022. He will earn his degree in December, 2022.

“I wish I had done this a long time ago. I’m just really enjoying it. I didn’t appreciate learning like I do now, the entire experience. After I’m done, I think I may look into taking other classes, not to advance my degree, but to advance myself.”

Sowden and his wife of 21 years, Cathy, are the parents of a daughter, Anna, who graduated during the pandemic in 2020 from Allegheny College, Meadville, Penn. She is a financial advisor. “She kind of felt let down she couldn’t have a regular graduation ceremony back then. When we talked about it, she pushed me to look into finishing my degree.”

His wife Cathy, coincidentally, started taking online courses a year ago in pursuit of a degree in Business Management. “She works for the state of Pennsylvania, and had been also pushing me to finish. I thought I’d reach out (to SMSU) and see what it would take.”

What he found was the “silver lining in this whole pandemic thing,” he said. “I could finish online. That would not have been possible pre-pandemic. I couldn’t leave my job here to complete my degree (at SMSU).”

When COVID-19 was at its restrictive height, SMSU pivoted and delivered all courses online. Sowden was a beneficiary of that.

He left the newspaper business seven years ago for a number of industry-in-decline reasons, and today is a customer service and sales representative for Rapid Granulators, a plastics firm.

He misses the creativity and community involvement that journalists enjoy, but not the hectic schedule, hours and pay. Plus, the decision has allowed him to pursue his degree alongside his wife Cathy.

“It’s natural for us to read or do something school-related in the evenings instead of watching junk TV. We read, watch lectures — we are doing something productive. When I was a photographer, my evenings were full, I worked crazy hours and after switching careers and having regular hours, it’s been a perfect for me.”

He credits Art faculty members Alma Hale and Anne Wedler “for working with me to make this possible,” he said. “It was new to them, too, and they’ve been so supportive.”

After leaving Marshall back in 1996 to chase his photography dream, Sowden is excited to earn his degree after all these years. “I didn’t know, then, how much not having a degree would affect me. I am grateful for this opportunity, and how helpful SMSU has been in helping me reach this goal.”