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Informatics senior finishes degree started in 1995

Feb 16, 2024
A man sits with a laptop

KOKOMO, Ind. — Michael LaFleur attended Indiana University Kokomo’s commencement ceremony many times during his 23 years as a paramedic, ready to assist in case of an emergency.

This May, he will attend as one of the graduates.

“That was one of the tougher assignments for me, because I hadn’t finished college,” said LaFleur, from Kokomo. “I have a sense of closure and excitement about whatever comes next . It’s definitely my turn. I’m not skipping it.”

Nearly 30 years after his first stint in college, he’s completing a Bachelor of Science in Informatics, with a minor in environmental and earth studies.

I had several false starts with college,” he said. “About a year into school I had kids, and that changes things financially. We were walking around the Bloomington campus pushing a stroller. It was difficult to pay bills with two young kids and being a young kid myself. We were in over our heads financially. That’s when I joined the Army to get things sorted out.”

After serving as a medical specialist in the Army, he completed paramedic school at Community Howard Regional Health, retiring after a 23-year career.

“I realized I was too young to be retired,” he said. “I didn’t have a degree to be employable in a different field, and I felt like I had unfinished business.”

With support from veteran’s benefits, he came to IU Kokomo as a full-time student in January 2022.

“I felt like going full time is key for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be very good at taking one class a year for 20 years. I like the routine of being a student. It helps me get my studying done, get my assignments done, just stay on top of everything.”

His original plan was to finish his degree and re-enter the workforce, but a faculty member suggested he think bigger.

“Leda Casey (teaching professor in geology) brought up the idea that I could be successful in graduate school, and it just kind of grew from there,” he said, adding that he’s been accepted into a master’s program in urban planning in Florida. After that, his goal is to be a planner in city or county government.

“I like the idea of helping communities be better,” he said. “I feel like that matches what I did as a paramedic, just coming at it from a different angle. With my background in informatics and data analytics, the bigger and messier the city, the better. A city that is well-organized or doesn’t have a lot of data to work with doesn’t necessarily need someone with my background. A city with a lot of data or a lot of processing left to do, or that isn’t even digital, they definitely need someone like me.”

LaFleur is open to a move wherever a job would take him, with his son and daughter grown.

“It’s me, my wife and two cats,” he said. “Hopefully I’m a good role model for my children. I’d like to think I’m setting a good example. I feel like having family support and financial aid support are essential to being a successful student. Once those things were in place, it was my responsibility to do as well as I could and finish my studies.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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