Janna Rasmussen of Fort Atkinson, WI, has a confession.  At age 47, she didn’t go back to college to launch a new career, or even to fulfill a desire to earn her degree.  She went back to college because of a steak dinner bet with her son.

Janna was a locomotive engineer when her son, Patrick, graduated from high school. Patrick announced that he didn’t need to go to college because his parents didn’t, and they turned out just fine.  That was enough for Janna.  She made the decision that instant to return to school, and to be a role model for her four children.  And she made a bet with her son:  The first to drop out owed the other a steak dinner.

Janna’s job as a locomotive engineer with Union Pacific Railroad required her to travel for days at a time. She practically lived in hotels, and was on call 24/7.  Attending a traditional college campus was out of the question.  Since she had always enjoyed science and ecology, Janna enrolled in the online Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  She turned her hotel room into a study hall, reading, doing her assignments, and participating in class discussions—all online.

The degree completion program that Janna chose is just one example of how UW-Extension is creating opportunities for Wisconsin workers to reach their educational goals while balancing work and family responsibilities.  The online Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management combines the strengths of four University of Wisconsin campuses—UW-Parkside, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout and UW-Superior—to craft a program that equips workers with the management skills needed to lead sustainable business initiatives.

Demand has been so strong that, in addition to launching two online certificates in sustainability, UW-Extension has an online master’s degree in the works. Both programs develop the competencies required for graduates to help businesses meet the Triple Bottom Line requirements of “people, profit, and plant”—resulting in viable businesses that support vibrant communities within a healthy environment.

Janna expects to graduate in August with a B.S. in Sustainable Management … and then go on to earn a master’s degree in environmental management and adult education. Her goal is to expand sustainable tourism in Central America.  As a volunteer in Costa Rica, she saw firsthand the need to protect the beautiful countryside in the face of an economic boom.  “Ecotourism is the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry.  It’s so important to balance those pressures with preserving the environment,” she says.

And what about that steak dinner bet? Janna’s“I-don’t-need-college” son graduated from music school and is pursuing his master’s degree, and her daughter is a third-year nursing student.  No one has collected a steak dinner, but the whole family is satisfying their appetite for learning.