When Miles Jett crossed the stage at Panther Arena on May 16, he made Cardinal Stritch University history as the first person to earn a bachelor of arts degree in the new interdisciplinary studies major.
The interdisciplinary studies major is part of Stritch’s new Limitless curriculum that helps students align their passions and interests with areas of academic study and, ultimately, a career.
“The re-design of our curriculum was done with students like Miles in mind,” according to Dr. Kate Meudt, ’17, dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies. “Now students can explore concentrations and create a unique major that positions them to start their career with a solid base of academic and professional experience.”
Miles built his major from concentrations in Writing and Social Media and supplemented his education with classes in Health and Wellness.
“The interdisciplinary studies major helped me identify my strengths and create my own pathway,” said Miles. “Many students don’t know what they want to do when they start college – they know what they like, but they don’t always know how build an education around that. I became a better student and the Stritch program put me in the right position to prepare for my future.”
A graduate of Brown Deer High School in suburban Milwaukee, Miles earned an associate degree at Milwaukee Area Technical College before transferring to Stritch in August 2019.
“I was considering other schools and my mom encouraged me to take a look at Stritch,” said Miles. “When I learned that I was eligible to receive a Legacy Scholarship because my dad, Andren, was a Stritch alum, I took a closer look and ultimately decided on Stritch.”
The Stritch Legacy Scholarship is available to incoming freshmen or transfer students like Miles who have an immediate family who is a Stritch alum or is currently enrolled. Andren earned two Stritch degrees - a bachelor’s degree in human services management in 2014 and a master’s degree in management in 2016.
Miles made a smooth transition to Stritch.
“Everyone gave me a reason to be there,” he reflected. “They really wanted me to succeed and I was not just a number.”
That decision to join the Stritch family proved to be providential as Miles found a support system that help him through unimaginable loss over the last year.
His mother, Lisa, was diagnosed with cancer shortly after he enrolled at Stritch. He cared for his mother while maintaining his full-time enrollment. Early in 2020 he learned that Lisa’s cancer had spread. The COVID pandemic prevented him from visiting her in the hospital and rehabilitation centers. His brother and close friend both passed away in mid-2020 and Lisa died just two weeks before the fall semester started.
“Miles had a true passion for the health sciences largely due to his personal experiences,” said Dawn Wankowski, a Biology professor. “While he was a student of mine, he experienced his mother's cancer diagnosis and later passing. We often spoke about principles in oncology related to her diagnosis and treatment. Despite this hardship, he attended class each day. I have the greatest admiration for his fortitude.”
"I came to know Miles best as a student in my course," said Dr. Amber Tucker, a Stritch sociology assistant professor. "Miles stood out immediately because he was always eager to participate in class discussions and was active in our online discussions. He always turned in high quality work and was eager to learn as much as possible. Miles insisted that he finish his semester although he was coping with the loss of his mother."
Being there for others despite his grief
Miles met student Gal Dahan through a class project in the Spring of 2020 and they formed a fast and strong friendship. Stritch transitioned to online instruction as a result of COVID and Gal returned to her home country of Israel, forcing them to communicate through phone calls.
“Miles opened his heart to me and shared his story,” reflected Gal. “He has never given up maintaining our friendship and is always interested in what is happening in my life. It is amazing how our friendship evolved from being classmates to talking about life and now he is like a brother to me, which makes me miss home less.”
When Gal returned to Stritch for the start of the Fall semester, she wanted to lift up Miles after all the loss he had experienced. “I regretted not being able to be there for him in person when his mother was sick. When I came back to Milwaukee I wanted to lift him up as he has lifted me up."
“He cares about others deeply, even when he is going through so much,” continued Gal. “He is so unbelievably strong. I am so proud of him; he has all the power he needs to do what he wants."
Another person who has witnessed Miles’ perseverance and resilience up close is U.S. Army Sergeant Antonio Grant. The two connected when Miles worked at the YMCA in Brown Deer. They established a deeper connection when Grant was recruiting Miles’ younger sister Tylisa.
“This young man’s drive, ability and resilience are incredible,” Grant shared. “He is using all that pain to drive him to push forward and graduate. His success is nothing short of amazing, but not surprising, especially those of us who know Miles.”
They stayed in touch after Grant relocated to Savannah, Ga., and Grant is proud of the determination Miles has shown. “His story is not unique; what makes it unique is that Miles continued to make himself available to everyone when he could have been grieving. He found refuge in helping others.
“Lisa told Miles that she knew he had greatness inside him and that no matter what was happening with her, to continue with his education and keep striving to meet his goals,” Grant said. “He never used all the loss he has experienced as a crutch or an excuse. This humble young man has been a rock for his sister and reminded Tylisa that their mom was so proud of her.”
Helping others through their loss
Miles will use his skills he has developed and honed at Stritch to help people who are experiencing loss.
“I don’t want to see kids suffer; no kid should have to experience what I did. I promised my mom and I will fulfill that promise.”
“Miles has had to carry burdens that a young person shouldn’t have to face,” said Communications professor Dr. Barb Spies. “Sorrow is a heavy weight. But, he kept on going. Every conversation we had, he mentioned someone at Stritch who had also offered him support. Staff and faculty helped him along the way, but the determination was all his."
“Miles let me know what he was experiencing last spring,” Spies continued. “We had video conversations about his mom’s condition. I checked on him throughout the summer. He was on my mind often. The right words are hard to find when someone suffers a loss. We talked a lot about it. I wanted him to know that he has many people who care about him and his success. We all feel the pain with him. We all support him. And I know I’m not alone in that response. That’s who we are in this caring community.”
“Stritch really is a caring community; it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with something school-related or personal, people look out for you and do everything they can to help you,” Miles shared. “As a Stritch graduate, I am prepared to create a caring community to help restore hope for people who may have lost hope.”
“I lost so much, but I also gained so much, thanks to Stritch.”
Watch story by TMJ 4's Mary Jo Ola that aired May 14, 2021.