Sarah Fisher has racked up many achievements as a professional race car driver, including 81 IndyCar series events and nine starts in the Indianapolis 500—the most for any woman in the history of the race. Since her retirement from the IndyCar Series in 2010, she hasn’t slowed down. She’s owned her own racing team, served on the National Women’s Business Council, and founded Speedway Indoor Karting, a venue near the famed oval where she raced. She and husband Andy O’Gara have two children.
But she had unfinished business where her college education was concerned. Although she started college, her racing schedule made finishing a degree impossible when she was younger. But, as they say in racing, you don’t always win a race on the first lap. In 2013 Fisher started a degree program at WGU Indiana, and in 2019, she received her bachelor’s degree in business.
“I didn’t know how proud I would be until I decided to walk at the graduation ceremony. My parents, my husband, my kids, even one of my special aunts flew in. It was so special to share that day with them.”
Here’s what she told Career Ready about how—and why—earning that degree was so important:
Tell us about your educational journey. Was college always part of your plan?
With parents who both had a great experience at Ohio State University, I always knew I wanted to accomplish a degree. I even took post-secondary classes my senior year in high school to get a jumpstart towards a degree. Until my racing career path crossed with WGU, it would be nearly impossible for me to fulfill that goal until I had more time later in life.
Why was earning a college degree so important?
Earning a degree was more about showing my kids that anything is possible if you work hard and focus on making each step of the way towards a goal. It wasn’t necessary in my career path, but certainly reinforces the idea that you can learn something new every day.
What factors did you need to consider when you were choosing a degree program?
For me those factors were certainly easier than others because the next step in my career and our path as a family was all about business and advancing the opportunities we currently have.
How did WGU work for you?
WGU worked for me in a handful of ways. Their focus on accountability each week towards earning your degree was very important to keeping me on track. Believe me, I could have come up with every excuse in the book from starting new businesses to giving birth, but my course mentor Laura became my best advocate and she took on the shoulder weight of thinking selfishly for my purpose. Laura was a big part of getting the job done, and I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it without her help.
WGU also worked for me while I was traveling and had crazy hours from all sorts of demands. I could take a test in a hotel room after flying across the country and studying for it! But at the same time because of the online proctoring the tests that are given are 100% real and it makes you feel so accomplished because of that credibility.
I didn’t know how proud I would be until I decided to walk at the graduation ceremony. My parents, my husband, my kids, even one of my special aunts flew in. It was so special to share that day with them, especially my husband who helped and supported me many nights that I stayed up late studying.
Next? Who knows, but the world is endless and full of possibilities. I know that whatever I dream, we dream, or work for as a family, that no matter how hard it is we will figure out how to check that dream off next!
The genius of WGU Indiana is in its design, according to WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Bell.
“WGU was designed for adults,” she says. “It’s all we do.”
Students can work at their own pace, with the personal connection of a WGU mentor who provides support. WGU also pioneered competency-based education, which measures skills and learning rather than time. Students progress through courses as soon as they can prove they’ve mastered the material. If a student can learn faster, spend more time on schoolwork, or lean on knowledge they already have from previous work or school experience, they can accelerate.
Online learning still puts the responsibility on the learner. If you need to be in a classroom with others for accountability, WGU—even with all its supports and efficiency—might not be a good fit.
Still, the success stories prove that for many adults, WGU’s model might be the only way they can earn a degree. Bell recalls one student who worked through her degree program while her parent was dying, spending hours in the hospital at her family member’s bedside on her laptop.
If she were at another university, she might have had to withdraw, but the flexibility of WGU allowed her to continue.
“Life happens,” Bell says. “But the grit and resilience we see in our WGU students is so inspiring.”