Zaneta Borchert wasn't sure she made the right move when she traveled from her homeland, Lithuania, to the United States.
Her marriage to the friend whom she made the trip for went "south," and she wondered how she could raise a child without the benefit of an American education.
She was nine years removed from secondary school. Nobody in the area could read her Lithuanian diploma, and grade levels between Lithuania and the United States are incomparable.
Central Lakes College offered Borchert the opportunity she needed. She scored well enough on the admission test to be able to enroll.
"I will always remember the excitement of that day in August 2000," she said. She'll never forget the words of secretary Norma Meitzner at the Academic Center for Enrichment on the Brainerd campus who gave her the news. "You can enroll in any program you wish," Meitzner told her.
Today, Borchert is studying at St. Cloud State University for her bachelor's degree in accounting. Last spring she graduated from CLC with high honors.
"I decided to go on for the bachelor's degree, because my CLC instructors kept challenging me to be a better student and go to the next step," she said. Management positions tend to go to those who have mastered the rigorous level of academic challenge.
At CLC, the busy single mother served as a tutor for about a dozen accounting and business math students. She had a natural affinity for working with numbers. More important, she enabled her classmates to work to the correct answer themselves.
"Zaneta would guide them, constantly challenging them, never just give them the answer," said Jeff Wig, one of several instructors who enjoyed teaching one of their hardest-working students. "According to students, her favorite phrase in tutorial sessions was 'Think about it'."
Wig said Borchert was "very highly rated by every student who worked with her."
Borchert said her greatest thrill since turning the corner on her tenuous start in the United States came when she was sworn in as an American citizen.
"Overwhelming," she said. "Seven years had flown by, and I just knew in order to be employable and live where I want to live, I needed to do it. This is where I want to be."
She has come a long way. In Brainerd, when she decided to try collegiate studies, she sought a bookkeeping certificate at CLC, uncertain as to how far she might be able to go. A few weeks into her first semester Borchert realized she could do the required work to go further and obtain the associate in applied science degree.
Over the next two years she maintained a 3.75 grade-point average.
"She was one of our top students," said Pam Thomsen, accounting instructor.
Bob Miller, who teaches business and computer sciences, and Kelly McCalla, director of academic services, praise the woman who not only enjoyed her studies but accepted challenges beyond the classroom.
Borchert's aptitude in computer programs such as Excel, sent her stock soaring. McCalla, who is responsible for scheduling the hundreds of sections of CLC courses, put the computer whiz to work. She made his job a lot easier and he appreciated it.
They weren't alone. "Zaneta assisted me in work through our Small Business Development Center," said Wig. "She put together complex spreadsheet applications for area manufacturers."
"Tutoring was great," Zaneta said. "I had set lab hours where accounting students could pop in any time. I had regular hours for some, and then there were a few one-timers as well."
Nicole Hausmann of Staples, a high school student also enrolled at CLC, was one of the tutored students. She invited Borchert to her high school graduation, where Hausmann's parents made a point to thank Borchert for helping their daughter. "That felt wonderful," she said. "Better than being paid."
She had earned $7 per hour.
Outspoken and willing to argue her case, Borchert joined friend Joy Kliewer for a half-hour discussion with James McCormick, chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, when he came to Brainerd seeking input from students and staff. The pair buttonholed the chancellor and a member of the MnSCU Board of Trustees to express the need for smoother transfer of courses between two- and four-year institutions in the system.
Today Borchert is the owner of a small condominium unit in Sauk Rapids where she and 5-year-old son Emil live.
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