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Sarah Bolwerk, second from left, who will graduate next week with a master of business administration degree, takes a familly photo in her Commencement gown. She is with her sons, Caleb, left, and Cayden, right, and husband Justin Bolwerk.

When Sarah (Miracle) Bolwerk ’13 was questioning her decision to work full time, be a present mom and partner to her two boys and husband and go back to school for her master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, she only had to think about her mom. 

Sarah (Miracle) Bolwerk, left, and her mom, Valerie Williams ’01, celebrate Sarah”s bachelor’s degree in 2013.

Bolwerk’s mom Valerie Williams ‘01, who earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources, was a single mom raising three children and working as a waitress at a local restaurant. Bolwerk’s parents divorced when she was 4, and her father was not a part of her life growing up.

“My mom knew that in order to make a better life for her and us kids, she had to go back to school,” said Bolwerk, of Winneconne, who will be among 1,300-plus graduates to cross the stage at commencement on May 18. Bolwerk will be earning her master’s degree in business administration. 

“(My mom) persevered through the challenges of working, going to school, and raising three kids for the first few years on her own and later with the support of my stepfather,” Bolwerk said. “It took my mom seven years to get her undergraduate degree. I am so inspired by her. She did the best she could for our family.” 

Her mother is equally proud and inspired by her daughter’s accomplishments.

As a parent, you have dreams that your children grow up to be happy, successful and caring adults,”  said Williams, who works as a human resources professional for a dairy product manufacturer in Appleton. “I am honored that she sees me as someone who inspired her to be more and do more. I could not be more proud of Sarah’s accomplishments, and for the amazing woman she is. Honestly, she is an inspiration to me!” 

Sarah Bolwerk ’13, right, was inspired by her mom, Valerie Williams ’01, to seek a UWO MBA degree.

Bolwerk majored in accounting and earned her business degree at UW Oshkosh in 2013. The summer after graduation, she married her high school sweetheart, Justin Bolwerk ’13, who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance. Soon after, they had two sons, now 5 and 8. 

Striving for more

Bolwerk always wanted to earn an advanced degree but didn’t know how to add school to her already full family and work life. After graduating with her undergraduate degree, she worked full-time as an accountant, first at Oshkosh Defense, then Miller Electric Manufacturing in Appleton, where she progressed to the accounting manager role. She is now the financial planning and analysis manager for M2S Group in Appleton, an engineered coating specialist comprising three companies: Appvion, Decorative Films, and Nekoosa Coated Products.

“I was holding back because I had kids and I didn’t have time…but again, it was always in the back of my mind that my mom got her undergraduate degree with three kids and as a single mom,” Bolwerk said. “So why can’t I do it? And I have a supportive husband with two kids who can help.”   

It took a supervisor at her previous job to give her the nudge that she needed.

“He said, ‘Hey, if you want to be a controller, be a director of finance, be a CFO (chief financial officer) someday, I highly suggest you go back and get your master’s,’” Bolwerk said. “I got home from work that day and did my research. I knew I wanted to do my master’s program at UWO. I figured out how long it was going to take. I applied that night and I was enrolled in classes two weeks later.” 

That was January 2021. Now, she is graduating with her MBA. Her mother and stepfather, along with her husband and kids, will be in the audience cheering her on at commencement. 

Her mother is not surprised at her daughter’s ability to juggle multiple roles well.

Sarah has always been someone who strived to achieve,” Williams said. “In high school, she got her first job at age 15 and saved for a year so she could buy her first car when she got her license, and at one point she held three part-time jobs, while juggling cheerleading and powerlifting, AND while maintaining straight A’s and a social life. And did she tell you she also has coached her son’s soccer team recently in addition to work and school?” 

Although Bolwerk’s kids are still years away from college, she hopes they will one day see her as a role model as her mother has been for her.

“I want to show them that everyone can be successful if they just set a goal and go after it,” she said. “It’s a balance between having big aspirations and going after what you want and that you don’t have to overload yourself in order to get there.” 

Learn more: 

 Study accounting at UWO 

Study human resources management at UWO 

Study finance at UWO