The Meaning of a Good Life

March 18, 2024

By Robert Stephens

Eric Reichwein poses with his wife and daughters after a family bike ride.
Photo by Scott Cook.

After attending seven colleges across three decades, Eric Reichwein ’18 discovered Rollins’ Professional Advancement programs and the quality of life he’d always wanted.

It all sounds like the perfectly scripted biopic about a man living the American dream. He’s a husband and father of two children. He makes a good living and earns promotions as often as spring flowers bloom. And in casual conversations he uses the word “blessed” to emphasize the value of his college degree and the impact it has had on his life and career.

If this is beginning to sound too good to be true, just wait. Because in addition to being hard-working, Eric Reichwein ’18 is also honest.

“I wasted so many opportunities,” he says. “My story was kind of a mess.”

Reichwein is in his early 40s. The dreamy part of his story began only six years ago when he completed his bachelor’s degree through Rollins Professional Advancement, a collection of flexible and affordable programs designed for working adults and transfer students. The rest of his adult life had been a series of flirtations with college classes up and down the state of Florida, a half-hearted chase with no clear direction.

“Rollins changed everything for me,” says Reichwein.

This is the same guy who in his mid-30s had no four-year degree and managed a bike shop. Today, he’s between meetings at United BioSource (UBC), a leading provider of pharmaceutical support services, where he is executive director of business development.

“Thanks to Rollins, I’m on a great career path, but I also have a much fuller life.”

A business professor works one on one with a student during class.
“The program was not just a series of lectures and courses. It became a community of classmates and mentors, which is exactly what I needed to finish what I’d started so many years ago.”Photo by Scott Cook.

Turning Roadblocks into Stepping Stones

Reichwein had a smooth runway in front of him when he graduated from high school with honors back in May 1998. His grades and work ethic earned him a scholarship to another private college in Florida. At the age of 17, he stepped away from home in Tavares and onto what he thought would be a fast track to a degree and a career in business.

“But the wheels fell off as soon as I left home,” he says. “I lost focus.”

After two semesters, Reichwein also lost his scholarship. He returned home to earn an associate’s degree in general education from a local state college. He would enroll in classes at four more schools, dropping about as many as he completed. By the time he was 30, he’d accrued debt from six different colleges with no degree.

“There was an online college too,” he says, doing a recount. “That one didn’t work out either. I’d gotten a taste of making some money at a phone company, with my family’s greenhouse business, and as manager for the bike shop. I became busy supporting my wife [Ashley] and our first daughter. Finishing school wasn’t a priority. At some point, though, I started to think about everything I was missing.”

Reichwein was missing moments. He worked weekends, holidays, and nights—sometimes 80 hours a week—for a salary that was barely paying the bills. In 2015, he and Ashley welcomed their second daughter to the family.

“I needed to get serious about where I was headed,” says Reichwein.

He’d gotten a big break that same year when, despite having no four-year degree or experience in the field, he landed a job on the ground floor of the health-care industry.

“I knew I could be an asset in other roles, but they weren’t going to promote a guy without a degree,” he says. “The business is too competitive.”

A professor and a student meet one on one on the Rollins College campus.
“The program is designed for you to be successful. The professors, your classmates, everyone is invested in your success and they want you to do well.”Photo by Scott Cook.

The Support to Succeed

The direction he needed came from people who’d been closest to him all along. Ashley graduated from Rollins in 2003. Her dad earned his degree later in life through the Hamilton Holt School, which administers Rollins’ Professional Advancement programs. A friend of Reichwein suggested the same program.

“I wasn’t sure about the cost and the commitment,” he says. “But they kept saying, ‘Eric, it’s set up for people like you—people who have families and jobs, and maybe haven’t tapped into their real value.’ I didn’t have any excuses.”

He found out that Rollins Professional Advancement offered a degree in health-care management and that he could still work full time and be present for his family. So in fall 2016, Reichwein attended his first classes at Rollins as a 35-year-old junior.

“I looked at it as my last shot,” he says, “and I wasn’t going to mess it up.”

In each class, Reichwein would be one of around just 15 students, all of them with unique life stories. He could sit up front and not worry about standing out.

“Instead of feeling awkward about my age, I felt at home,” he says. “All along, I needed the atmosphere of Rollins, where you aren’t lost in a crowd of students and where the instructors take a personal interest in your professional growth.”

One of his professors, Nancy Niles, chairs Rollins’ Department of Health Professions. She related to Reichwein as a health-care colleague and mentor.

“That doesn’t happen at other schools,” says Reichwein, “and I speak from a lot of experience.”

Eric Reichwein poses for a portrait in a cap and gown.
“Graduating was one of the most important moments of my life. I wanted my girls to see me get my diploma—to see that their dad didn’t give up.”Photo by Scott Cook.

Realizing a Dream

In May 2018, exactly 20 years after graduating from high school, Reichwein accepted his bachelor’s degree at a ceremony on Rollins’ Winter Park campus. He walked in front of professors, classmates, Ashley, and their two daughters.

“That was one of the most important moments of my life,” he says. “I wanted my girls to see that their dad didn’t give up.”

The next chapter, the one with the upward trajectory, began right away. Three promotions in five years. A salary nearly doubled in that time. An MBA earned and a 401(k) fully vested. Six years after finishing his bachelor’s degree, UBS recruited Reichwein for his current role, leading business development for its patient support and affordability services.

“When people hear I graduated from Rollins in 2018, they kind of stop,” says Reichwein. “But it isn’t the age factor that gets their attention. It’s the prestige.”

For Reichwein, though, it’s that and so much more.

“I’m involved in the lives of my daughters. I can arrange my schedule to pick them up at school, be there for cheerleading practices, and be together on weekends. One mentor said my goal shouldn’t be work-life balance, it’s work-life integration. That’s been the most important change for me, and that’s why I say I’m blessed to be a Rollins graduate—no matter how long it took.”

Rollins Professional Advancement students walk past the rose garden in caps and gowns after their commencement ceremony.

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