Ryan's mother died when he was 21. Her picture is propped up next to the odometer in his 2007 Dodge Caliber, tracking the miles along with him. Ryan is only 33 years old, but he has a long road behind him.
He grew up living in and out of foster care because of the instability, alcohol abuse and fighting at home. His memories of his father are vague phone calls to prisons in Appleton and Green Bay. Only one foster parent, a Native American named Joe Buck, truly connected with him. He taught Ryan about sweat lodges and his Ho Chunk ancestry.
His teenage years and young adulthood were no easier. He lost his parents to cancer and had facial reconstructive surgery twice after a brutal beating from a stranger.
Despite all of this, Ryan is finishing his bachelor's degree in management from UWL, with plans to graduate in May. He says his mother would be proud because he is living his dreams.
Ryan Crain with his fiancée, UWL alumna Cassidee Fosterling, ’13. "I’ve never been with someone who challenged me or inspired me like she has," says Ryan.
Ryan Crain with members of Western Technical College's basketball team. He became captain of the team and earned a 4.0 at Western. He then transferred to UWL.
Seeing success in the mirror
When the time came, the transition to UWL was more challenging.
Some of Ryan's classes, like applied calculus, meant extra studying to learn concepts he had not mastered. That first semester, he spent every day in faculty office hours, and felt overwhelmed. But, as the semesters rolled on, he learned the importance of finding balance. He cut his hours at The Waterfront and prioritized balancing his life, including making time to have regular dinners with Fosterling. He learned the benefits of meeting with his academic advisor, connecting with professors and working with management tutors.
"Once I realized the professors at UWL — like at Western — were willing to help me, that helped me make the transition," he says.
At UWL he also became a founding member and president of an honors fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, dedicated to community service. He took an internship with the Ho Chunk Nation.
His grades have steadily improved, landing him on the Dean's List in fall 2017.
"Before I applied to UWL, I said out loud in the mirror, ‘I am going to graduate from UWL and do so with honors," he says. "I'm days away from that coming true."
Today Ryan, a business management major, looks forward to the next step. He interviewed with companies in management, financial advising and other business positions. He received multiple job offers and accepted a position as a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual. He is genuinely excited to help others and to lead.
Chris says Ryan no longer needs the extra push he did as a kid.
"When he decided to go back to school, he did it full force," says Chris. "I tell him I'm so proud of him. Every time I see him, it brings a smile to my face."
Fosterling thinks about Ryan's success in relation to the many youngsters she sees in school ever day.
"Thinking about the kind of lives students can have, and watching him overcoming those things — It's a success story I hope for all of my students who have those rough points."