Post-traditional student finds success at BGSU Firelands

Julia Nickell uses skills from business program to grow candle company

BGSU Firelands student Julia Nickell.

By Patrick Pfanner

Bowling Green State University Firelands student Julia Nickell understands what it takes to face one’s fears.

Nickell, who's pursuing a Bachelor of Technical and Applied Studies, grew up in southern Arizona, where Arizona, California and Nevada meet, and overcame challenges early in life.

“I did not grow up in a great household,” Nickell said. “My mother struggled with addiction up until she died a month before my 30th birthday. My father was pretty much uninvolved. My grandparents played a huge role in raising me. If it weren't for them, especially my grandmother, I don't know where I would be today.”

Life’s early struggles made pursuing a college degree difficult. But in 2018, she faced her self-described fear of failure and applied to BGSU Firelands.

“I was looking to begin my college journey again after admitting defeat so many times,” Nickell said. “BGSU Firelands was on my radar, but I was so scared of failing. I had a family, and if I failed, I wouldn’t just be letting myself down. Then I visited the BGSU Firelands website and noticed the application fee was waived. I took it as a sign.”

She overcame additional hardship in September 2021 when new challenges made balancing parenthood, business ownership and being a student much more difficult.

Too much was on my plate, and I was feeling the old familiar urge to quit school,” Nickell said. “Instead of quitting, I contacted my advisor at BGSU Firelands, Victoria Moran. She talked me through how to lighten my load while keeping me on the path to graduation.

BGSU Firelands student Julia Nickell demonstrates the candle-making process.

Nickell is on track to graduate in spring 2023 with new skills to grow her candle business. Her interest in creating candles started in March 2020, during pandemic isolation. By July 2020, she opened Island Sham Farmhouse in Port Clinton, her business that lets customers make, or order, their own candles.

“I wanted to not just sell candles but also provide people the opportunity to connect and experience something,” Nickell said. “We spent so much time away from other people when the pandemic began. Allowing people to come together to create and spend quality time was my vision.”

Nickell occasionally hosts Island Sham Farmhouse events at BGSU Firelands to let students make their own candles. This, in turn, gives classmates a first-hand look at what it takes to apply classroom lessons to the business world.

Real-world experience is an important part of the small business enterprise concentration of the Bachelor of Technical and Applied Studies, program director Michelle Brodke said.

“Small business owners and entrepreneurs are often ‘in love' with their idea for a business,” Brodke said. “Our program teaches students to take a critical view by staying focused on the customer and using data.”

Brodke said Nickell is driven to find success not only for herself but also for her classmates.

“Julia has excellent grades and helps build an online community by interacting with other students,” Brodke said. “In my discussion boards, people get extra points for effectively helping their classmates, and Julia consistently provides help. She also consistently asks for clarification on assignments. By doing so, she helps me clarify details that help the entire class.”

Nickell said she’s excited to graduate in spring 2023 and hopes her business continues to grow.

“I want to make Island Sham Farmhouse my full-time job, and I would like to give back more to the community,” Nickell said. “BGSU Firelands has been like family. I feel so accepted and at home when doing my candle events at the college. I’m almost sad that my college journey is nearing the end. But I doubt you have heard the last from me.”

Updated: 01/19/2023 09:37AM