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Global Campus grad travels long road in pursuit of debt avoidance in college

Charlie Tappen and his family sitting together

Before starting his undergraduate career, Global Campus graduate Charlie Tappen saw many college graduates who were weighed down by student loans and decided he didn’t want that to be his story. Setting the first of many ambitious goals, Tappen determined he would graduate without any debt.

The process wasn’t quick or easy, but Tappen accomplished his goal in May 2020.

To begin his college education, Tappen first enrolled in classes in 2015 at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he was living at the time. He knocked out a few prerequisites and learned valuable lessons along the way.

While he was taking classes in Colorado, his girlfriend was enrolled in K-State’s pre-veterinary program in Manhattan, Kansas. After finishing his prerequisites, Tappen put an end to the “long distance” in their relationship and made the move to the Little Apple. While there, he planned to continue his education at K-State. The move’s success was evident, and the two were married shortly thereafter.

“After the wedding, we knew we both couldn’t be students and maintain the lifestyle we wanted, so I paused taking classes and began working full time at a local bank while she finished her degree,” he said.

Banking was a positive experience, but Tappen longed for something more.

“I realized I wanted to be part of a team, of a bigger system and to see how things flowed on a larger level,” he said.

This epiphany would ultimately help Tappen decide to study operations and supply chain management when he enrolled at K-State in 2018. But first, beyond getting his education, his desire to contribute to something bigger than himself also led Tappen to serve his country.

“My wife and I both came from military families and we felt like something was missing,” he said. “We missed the community of the Army, so I decided to join the Army Reserve in 2016.”

Taking another big leap, Tappen put his job on hold and set off to train for about a year before returning to Manhattan. The challenge was a rewarding experience and soon after, his next chapter as a student began.

“My wife graduated around this time, so I was able to start pursuing my bachelor’s degree at K-State,” he said.


In-person or online? It depends.

While Tappen started his classes on campus, he transitioned online to help meet his goals.

“Taking classes in person was nice, but I realized online courses would be better for graduating without debt, so I made the switch in 2019 after about a year of being on campus,” he said.

Online learning opened the door for Tappen to apply for scholarships designated for remote learners. He was awarded one such scholarship from K-State Global Campus. The Kansas State University College of Business Administration and the Flint Hills Veterans Coalition also gave Tappen scholarships and support along the way.

Still serving in the Army Reserve and working towards his degree, Tappen added a full-time job at an investment company to his plate.

“I wanted us to be in the best financial situation possible,” he said. “My time management skills definitely increased. I only spent time doing things that would help me achieve a goal.”

Along with time management and solid study habits, Tappen credits Global Campus staff with helping him along the way.

“My professors were always easy to contact and willing to help. Outside of the classroom, my advisor, Becca Dale, was a huge asset,” he said. “She always had answers to my questions, and if she didn’t, she knew exactly where to find them.”


Life throws a curveball: COVID-19

As Tappen was juggling a full-time job, military service and classes as a full-time student, another difficulty was added: the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, I was actually taking two of my five classes on campus, which had to be transitioned to online learning,” he said.

An added challenge for students and staff alike, Tappen feels the campus-wide move to full online learning went as smoothly as possible.
“The switch to online went without any major hiccups, and the professors were great throughout the process. This was many people’s first experience with online classes and the instructors did their best to make it a positive one,” he said.

Dealing with COVID-19 became even more difficult after Tappen graduated. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in operations/supply chain management in May 2020.

“It was a real lesson in resilience. I got a little discouraged in the beginning because it felt like I was sending in job application after job application,” he said. “But I kept with it, did my due diligence and went beyond the application process making phone calls, sending emails and networking.”

No stranger to hard work, his efforts paid off and Tappen accepted a position with Northrop Grumman as a cost scheduling control analyst, which he began the summer of 2020.

Tappen is a story of what’s possible when change is embraced instead of feared. Beyond a career in the field he’s passionate about, the completion of his undergraduate degree while balancing other roles gave him personal satisfaction.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to know that I set goals for myself, worked towards them and achieved them,” he said. “And none of that would have been possible without K-State Online — I’ll be a K-Stater for life.”

Interested in giving back? You can help support students like Charlie Tappen by contributing to K-State Global Campus foundation funds, which support student scholarships and online learning. If you are interested, learn more. If you would like to visit about giving back, you may contact Melinda Sinn, alumni and external relations coordinator at sinnpio@k-state.edu.