Paying it Forward
The support and encouragement 23-year-old Cassie Knauer received during her own education planted the seeds to help her nurture young minds.
As Cassie Knauer started out her senior year at Appleton West High School, her dilemma was a familiar one. “I had no clue where I wanted to go for college or if I even wanted to go,” she explains.
One thing she knew for sure was that she loved taking care of children and wanted to make a career out of it. She had already taken several early childhood education classes in high school, plus she had a connection with the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at Fox Valley Technical College. “I knew [ECE instructor] Judi Bourin from playing softball with her daughter. Judi gave me great insight about the program,” she says.
So Cassie enrolled in the ECE program, with a 24-credit jump-start: through her dual credit classes—ECE-specific as well as general education—by the time she graduated from high school, she was already a full semester ahead on her college degree. She graduated from FVTC in 2020, and thanks to her credit advantage and a healthy dose of determination and know-how, Cassie became one of the youngest FVTC graduates to ever direct a childcare center. At 21 years old, in 2022 she accepted the position of Center Director at Discover Little Miracles Child Care Center in Neenah.
“When the opportunity at Discover Little Miracles popped up, I was excited but scared at the same time because I didn't know if I was ready,” she explains. “It was definitely a challenge, but I was up for it and felt very passionate about the administration side of childcare and excited about teaching the teachers.”
In her role, Cassie leads all childcare operations: enrollment, staffing, classrooms, children and staff files, employee continuing education, activities and state licensing. In addition, she handles all business operations alongside one of the owners, including budgets, payroll, expenses and income. She returned to FVTC to earn her Child Care Administrator certificate, providing her with the expertise and credentials to run a center.
The hands-on, practical education and supportive environment are what Cassie appreciated the most about her FVTC education. “Through the practicums in childcare centers, you get to see what it’s really like in a real-life setting,” she explains. “But the number one thing I loved about my education was the amount of support I received. There are so many people who played a role in setting examples, supporting me, and helping me to get to where I am today.”
Two of Cassie’s biggest supporters are FVTC Early Childhood Education instructors Judi Bourin and Kathy Meetz.
Judi recognized Cassie’s drive early on, while she was still in high school. “Cassie was well aware of her passion and goals and connected with her high school dual credit instructor early in her high school career,” she says. “It's all about connections and Cassie was able to connect with those individuals who could help her reach her goal.”
Kathy adds, “We're proud of all our students, but particularly the ones that establish a goal and meet that goal. And Cassie had high goals. To be a director of a childcare center at 21 years old? That is very uncommon. We're really proud of her.”
Cassie is happy to be living her dream. “Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve wanted to work with children. I love supporting them in their learning and watching them grow,” she says. “Every day is different, and every day is important to the children you’re working with. Being a constant in their lives makes the biggest impact on them!”
100% grad employment for Early Childhood Education grads 6 months after graduation
Do the Dual
Cassie took advantage of dual credit classes when she was a student at Appleton West High School, earning 24 credits in general education and early childhood education courses.
Dual credit classes are Fox Valley Technical College classes taught by trained high school teachers at the high school. This allows students to earn high school credit and technical college credit at the same time at no cost to the student or their school district. These credits can then be transferred to a technical college or a four-year university.
In 2022-23, 6,749 high school students participated in FVTC dual credit classes, totaling 24,309 credits.
Learn more about Early College Credit opportunities at Fox Valley Technical College >