Two things have always been true for Eric Balkman — he is passionate about sports, and he enjoys doing research on his favorite teams. With a stroke of luck and a lot of determination, Balkman has focused these activities into his academics at UW Oshkosh.
In 2008, Balkman and two of his friends won nearly $120,000 playing fantasy football. Balkman used his share to return to school to study radio/TV/film and journalism, with intentions of covering sports on the radio, a goal he has gotten closer to since graduating in December 2011.
Balkman first attended college right after high school, but dropped out in 1999 because he said he wasn’t passionate about school and didn’t know what he wanted as a major. He said he didn’t want to waste his money on tuition since he didn’t have a direction, so Balkman stopped out and joined the workforce.
After leaving college, Balkman worked in retail, first selling cell phones and then working at a watch company’s website, and he realized retail work was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
"I kept thinking, 'Can I really do this for the next 40 years? Can I do this for the next 30 years? The next 30 days?’,” Balkman said. "I knew the answer was no. The avenues available to me without a college degree were pretty limited, and I realized in order to do something I really enjoy, I was going to have to finish my degree.”
Balkman said he chose UW Oshkosh because he was looking for a well-respected journalism program.
“What’s the sense in going to Milwaukee or LaCrosse or Madison when I can get a very good education right here,” Balkman said. “There are plenty of Oshkosh journalism graduates who have gone on to do some pretty cool things, like Jim Vande Hei (who is the executive editor and co-founder of POLITICO), so I didn’t see a reason to go anywhere else.”
Balkman said he was self-motivated to back to college, and his girlfriend, family and boss, who was flexible with his work schedule, also encouraged him.
“Time management was probably the biggest obstacle for me,” Balkman said. “The work itself wasn’t difficult, it was just a matter of being able to do it well and get everything done.”
In addition to his job, Balkman worked at the University radio station, WRST, as well as the student newspaper, the Advance-Titan. He was also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Social Media Club and belonged to three honor societies: Golden Key International Honour Society, Kappa Tau Alpha and Alpha Sigma Lambda, the honor society for nontraditional students.
“Instead of spreading myself thinly throughout a lot of organizations, I tried to get really involved with one thing and it turned into two things between print media and broadcast media,” Balkman said. His dedication helped him win 13 awards through his work at WRST and Titan TV.
Balkman won seven Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Awards for Student Excellence, three Northwest Broadcast News Awards, two National Broadcast Society Awards and one College Broadcasters, Inc. Award. He said doing well in school is not about intelligence, but mental toughness and working hard.
“People think in order to be successful you have to be smart, or in order to graduate you need to be smart or intelligent — it just comes down to understanding what you have to do, doing it and then doing it well,” Balkman said.
Balkman compared his time at UW Oshkosh to a marathon, saying it served as a testament to who he is as a person, not his potential.
“As a result of the classes I took and the people I met at UW Oshkosh, I was forced to push myself further, both mentally and physically, than I thought I could have before I came to school here,” Balkman said.
“Looking back on some of the things I’ve done while I was here, I think, ‘How did I ever get that done?’ I know it is because of the great people I was surrounded by at UW Oshkosh.”