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UNI custodian traverses difficult road to degree and new career

February 4, 2003

Charles E. Pugh, assistant technical director, School of Music, (319) 273-3552
Gwenne Culpepper, University Marketing & Public Relations, (319) 273-2761

In 1989, Charles Pugh, then a university custodian, enrolled in a single course at UNI. 'I just wanted to see if I could do it,' he recalls now. The B- he received at the end of the semester was all the proof he needed; the next semester he took two courses. 'I thought, 'whoa! I think I can do this.' Sometimes he'd take as many as 12 hours at a time, while he continued to work full time as custodian.

In the meantime, his wife of 20 years died from a pulmonary embolism, leaving behind three daughters. 'But I kept going. I had to. I needed to show my daughters that a person can accomplish anything he puts his mind to.'

Pugh graduated in 1997 with a degree in social behavioral science and the hope of working as a youth shelter assistant, but couldn't find a job. So he continued working as a custodian, but also began taking graduate courses at UNI. He received his master's in May 2000, yet was still unable to find full-time employment in the Cedar Valley. He worked as a part-time computer lab teacher for the Waterloo School District, as he continued his custodial duties at UNI.

In December 2002, he learned of an assistant technical director position opening in the UNI School of Music. He applied and was hired. 'It was a difficult road,' he says. 'But I learned that you can never give up on your goals. I learned to think positively, even on the negative days.'