Meet John Piazza, a non-traditional Warhawk from Redding, California. At UW-Whitewater John is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history, serves as a Campus Assistant, and is also active as a member of the men’s wheelchair basketball team. Read on to discover how his experiences at UW-Whitewater have shaped his life thus far.
Give us a brief outline of your higher education experience. What made you choose UW-Whitewater at this point in your life.
After high school, my best friend and I actually saved up enough money and moved to Hawaii for three months. I intended to go to school there, but it was too expensive, so I came back to Redding and worked for a year. I attended junior college for a year, and then I got in my motorcycle accident. Once I got back after that, I started working and traveling a lot, and then I realized that I didn’t want to work dead end jobs, so I went back to school as an International Marketing major. After a little while I realized that I actually wanted to teach, and I also started to get more interested in wheelchair basketball. That’s how I found out about Whitewater. I kept looking up YouTube videos, and Whitewater just kept coming up! Whitewater’s academics also attracted me, especially the combo of small class sizes on a larger campus; it offers a lot of experiences and it’s like the best of both worlds.
How does being a non-traditional student differ from the typical undergraduate experience?
Plain and simple: I’m old! It’s different for me because I had a pretty life changing experience when I was 20. One of the first things they told me when I got hurt was: “You’re no longer a kid. You’re a man now. At the same time, anyone coming back has already experienced his or her younger, more rebellious side. You get a little bit more pragmatic as you get older. For me, my priorities are really set in stone. Now I can’t easily get talked out of studying for two hours to hang out with my friends. My Friday and Saturday nights aren’t very exciting because I’m usually either trying to catch up on homework or I’m exhausted and just kind of want to lay low.
What is your most memorable experience at UW-W thus far?
I think that would probably be my first day in classes. I’m a typical older student, so I was sitting in the front row, ready to ask questions, and it was the first time I actually felt old. I was 26 for my first semester, and I was in a freshman English class. I thought I was going to be young forever because I’m Californian, but it was like, well, I’m in college, but now I’m a little old.
How does being on the men’s wheelchair basketball team impact your involvement at UW-W, and how is it helping you prepare for your future?
Work ethic, hands down. I don’t think there’s another athletic team that gets up five days a week at 5:15, works out for two hours, goes to class, and then does a scrimmage and work out in the afternoon. Our coaches expect a lot from us, even outside of practice. You attend every class, you work at every practice, and you learn time management. You have to work hard if you want to make it.
What is the best piece of advice you can share with other undergrad students regarding their experiences here at UW-W?
Come up with a goal and stay focused. That’s really the best thing, because it’s so easy to get distracted. I see that a lot as a non-traditional student. You’ve got to understand that once you pick a goal, you might not get it in a few days. Life’s always going to throw things at you that you’re not prepared for, so if you can keep a focus, you’ll eventually get what you want.
If you’re interested in learning more about John’s experiences with wheelchair basketball, stop by UW-W’s tournament being held November 16-17. In the words of John, “I’ve done a lot of sports throughout my life, and wheelchair basketball is the by far the hardest. If you’ve never seen it before, stop by and experience it. That’s really what college is all about- the experiences. Also, because we’re at Whitewater, you know it’s going to be good!”