Tuesday, May 25, 2021

New Focus Helps CVTC Grad Turn Life Around

Olivia Harmer found an applied approach worked better for her

Article Photo - New Focus Helps CVTC Grad Turn Life Around

CVTC graduate Olivia Harmer stands with her father, Paul Harmer, whose advice helped lead her to CVTC and turning her life around after a period of struggles.


A “heart-to-heart" conversation with her father helped Chippewa Valley Technical College graduate Olivia Harmer turn her life around. Now, newly confident in her abilities, she is ready to embark on a career after completing the Radiography program at CVTC, and since she has ties to various parts of the country, her horizons are virtually limitless.

Harmer delivered the student speaker’s address at CVTC’s virtual Spring Graduation Celebration Friday, May 21. She was one of 839 graduates in 72 programs honored and one of four Radiography graduates. The largest group of graduates was 100 in the Nursing-Associate Degree program, followed by 54 in Business Management ad 41 in Criminal Justice-Law Enforcement. Also honored were 12 students who completed their High School Equivalency Diploma since the previous graduation in December.

Harmer, 29, struggled for years, failing to meet expectations for herself due to struggles with mental illness. Today, after changing her focus to an applied approach, she is doing much better.

“I have been very successful in my academics in radiography,” Harmer said. “I have been on the President's List every semester and graduated with honors. I am not sure if this is because I am older and have more life experience and a different outlook on life, or perhaps I have a clear visualization of my future and I feel passionate about it.”

Graduation from CVTC was a joyous day for Harmer, 29, who did not have enough such days in previous years.

A 2010 graduate of Black River Falls High School, Harmer grew up in a Navy family and moved around the country to port cities in California, Florida and Hawaii. When her father, Paul, retired, he moved back to central Wisconsin where his parents still lived. Today, her father lives in Merrillan and is director at the diagnostic imaging department at the hospital in Neillsville.

Harmer had high aspirations as she finished high school. She became a certified nursing assistant while in school and worked with local aging populations and people with disabilities. She felt passions for science and for helping people. She attended UM-Duluth with intent to double major in philosophy and biology and become a doctor of homeopathic medicine, then changed to biochemistry.

“I started to struggle in all aspects of my life – physical, financial, emotional and social – which in turn affected my studies. I sought out help for all the resources I could find, and I was still struggling. After four years and no degree, I dropped out. I felt like an absolute failure and wasn't sure what to do next.”

Harmer headed west and worked at national parks and ski resorts, but then had that talk with her father.

“He knew my passion for helping others and my interest in science,” Harmer said. “He told me that maybe I should pursue an applied degree rather than a degree focused on research. He thought I needed to work with people rather than in a cubicle or lab. He also expressed to me that my worth is not a reflection of an educational degree. I didn't have to have a PhD to have value in this world.”

Harmer switched her focus to CVTC and a degree in Radiography, following her father’s role in the military. Different struggles came up in her life, though. Her mother, who lives 1,000 miles away became ill and was in and out of the hospital. The stress from her mother’s illness and the pandemic affected Harmer’s health, too.

“But I was able to manage my academics, take care of my mom, and somewhat take care of myself,” she said. "Thankfully, I have a good support system. My program has four instructors who were by my side supporting me from day one to graduation.”

Harmer says she copes with her anxiety disorder but can keep her life and her future in perspective.

“I try to give myself more grace and compassion than I normally would, for I have always been too hard on myself,” she said. “I try to remember what is truly important to me in life and to not stress about the little stuff.”