Tom Hinz doesn’t need a four-year college degree to prove his professional competence. He is a military veteran, a teacher, a retired assistant police chief and three-term sheriff and, since 2007, Brown County Executive, serving as chief executive officer and chief elected official of Brown County.
What, then, drove him to completion of his bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay this semester?
Personal satisfaction, pure and simple.
Hinz will cross the Weidner Center stage Dec. 20 to receive a diploma for his Bachelor of Applied Studies degree earned through UW-Green Bay’s Adult Degree Program.
“Obtaining my degree was something that I have wanted to do for many years,” Hinz said. “For some reason that I really can’t explain, I wanted to graduate from a university, from UW-Green Bay….”
He just took a little longer than most.
No stranger to education, Hinz graduated from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in 1976 with a degree in police science, and he attended the FBI National Academy in 1984. But life (military service, marriage and family, and a 31-year career with the Green Bay Police Department) left little time for degree completion.
Determined, he started in UW-Green Bay’s Adult Degree program in 1991, taking courses when his schedule would allow. But when he was elected Brown County Sheriff in 1996, it forced him to take a sabbatical from the program until his retirement from the Sheriff’s Department in 2003.
“There were too many things happening at the Sheriff’s Department at that time and I did not feel I could justify taking the time away from the job to study,” he explained. “We were in the process of building a new jail, shipping up to 185 inmates to different jails daily due to overcrowding and hiring over a hundred new employees.”
Not one to sit idle for long, Hinz started a new career teaching criminal justice at NWTC, taking on the role of manager of security and safety for the college, while also serving as a Brown County supervisor. Encouraged by others, he ran and was elected as Brown County Executive in 2007. But he didn’t forget that he had a job to complete on the east side of town.
Hinz’s lesson in persistence is one he wishes to share with those that will listen:
“One of the reasons I decided to finally finish my bachelor’s degree journey was for my own personal reasons, but mainly to show younger people that if this old guy can go back to school and get his degree, you can, too,” he said.
“I have enjoyed being in the Adult Degree Program and my advisers have been terrific,” he says. “I feel I’m getting so much more out of my education today than if I had gone on to college right out of high school. My parents never finished high school, so college wasn’t ever talked about in my family. What I’ve learned in the past several years at UW-Green Bay has been very beneficial in my present job as County Executive. There are things I have taken from every class I’ve had that I can use either at work, in teaching or in my personal life. I feel college keeps one’s thinking contemporary.”
First hesitant to march with his fellow graduates in UW-Green Bay’s commencement exercises, Hinz has since been convinced by his family members to take part in the celebration. His wife Ursula, daughters Coleen and Heidi, and sister-in-law Sheri will be in the Weidner Center crowd.
He will be wearing the distinguished Chancellor’s Medallion, presented to a select group of students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and extraordinary leadership.
One doesn’t need a college degree to know that the honor is well deserved.