Photo by Amy Nelson ’20

Nicole Engstrand has not had the stereotypical college experience. The Nelson, Wis., native has faced many challenges on her path to a degree, from homelessness to bullying to mental illness. But through it all, she has remained committed to defying the odds and following her path to success.

The oldest of six children, Engstrand chose to attend Winona State University so she could save money and continue living at home while attending school fulltime. She sees herself as a role model for her younger siblings, and hopes to inspire them as the first member of her family to attain a four-year degree.

“Graduating will allow me to be a leader for them by showing them if I can do it, so can they,” she said.

In addition, her achievement has taken on even more significance since her father suffered a life-threatening accident, causing Engstrand and her brother to step in to operate the family dairy farm.

“My father nearly died while I was in school,” said Engstrand. “Walking across the stage to graduate will mean so much to him. It will show my parents that, despite our life challenges we faced as a family, they did a good job.”

Engstrand graduates with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Psychology. She hopes to one day work as a clinical social worker in the mental health field, and work with adults or adolescents with mental illness.

She said her WSU experience taught her just how much she’s capable of, and gave her the confidence to pursue her dreams.

“WSU has pushed me to do better in ways I could not even have imagined,” said Engstrand. “Who knows where I will end up, my options are endless.”

WSU Fall Commencement Ceremonies will take place Friday, Dec. 8, in McCown Gymnasium on the Winona campus. The 10 a.m. ceremony will feature the College of Business, the College of Education, and the College of Science and Engineering. The 2 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Liberal Arts, and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

For more information, visit or call University Communications at 507-457-5024.

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Kassidy Jackson

Kassidy graduated in 2019 with a BA in Public Relations and minors in Advertising and Dance. She is from Rosemount, MN and her interests include dancing, choreographing and listening to music.

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