A month-long mission trip to the tiny African country of Malawi in 2013 convinced Lucas Hintz he should make the most of his God-given gifts and set him on an education and career path of service to others. During his time in the poor, agrarian country of 18 million, he visited churches, communities and hospitals, sharing his faith and doing humanitarian work.
While traveling throughout Malawi, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Wausau student said he witnessed the effects of poverty, joy in the face of debilitating hardship and triumph of the human spirit.
"The trip gave me new perspective of what my advantages were as an American and became my springboard into higher education," said Hintz, who was homeschooled by his parents, Randy and Karin Hintz, but didn't finish high school.
"I guess you could call me a homeschool dropout," he said. "When I went to Africa at age 20, I had never stepped foot in a 'normal' classroom. During my mission trip, I realized I shouldn't squander the opportunities given me."
Upon his return to the United States, the Mosinee, Wis., resident earned his General Education Diploma through a GED program at Northcentral Technical College, then completed an associate degree to become a radiology tech.
While attending NTC, Hintz realized he had bigger educational and career aspirations.
"My interest in high-level medicine was growing. I knew I wanted to be a doctor," he said.
His next step to achieve his goal of becoming a physician was a bachelor's degree so he enrolled at UW-Stevens Point at Wausau in spring 2017. Now 27, Hintz is about to complete his second associate degree.
He is one of two graduates speaking at the campus' 2019 commencement ceremony at 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 7, in the James F. Veninga Theater, located in the UW Center for Civic Engagement, 625 Stewart Ave., Wausau.
In addition to being a full-time student, Hintz works 16 hours a week as an X-ray tech at Aspirus Hospital, Wausau, and nights and weekends for the Mosinee Fire Department as an emergency medical technician. This fall, he will continue his educational journey at UW-Stevens Point's main campus pursuing a bachelor's degree in biochemistry or biology.
Although it was "a bit of mental challenge," when he first arrived on campus, Hintz said he appreciates the varied liberal arts education he has received at UW-Stevens Point at Wausau.
"It's been a very accessible, affordable and good place to test the waters of the university system," Hintz said. He's also enjoyed exploring the different fields of study, particularly the sciences, which "are inspiring here because of the smaller class sizes and enthusiasm of the instructors," he added.
Two of Hintz's favorite courses were Introduction to Art History and American Literature. "I wouldn't have expected to enjoy them so much, but they and other general education courses help broaden your horizons and way of thinking," he noted.
One of 13 children in his family, Hintz will graduate from the Wausau campus without any student loan debt. He credits scholarships from the UW Wausau Campus Foundation for helping him remain debt free. During the past two years, he has been awarded six scholarships through the foundation.
"The financial support you get here as a student from community members and organizations is phenomenal," said Hintz. "Plus, it's super-easy to apply for scholarships."
At its annual scholarship awards ceremony on May 2, the foundation named Hintz its 2019 Samuel Weiner Award for Academic Excellence recipient, given to the campus' top student scholar, as chosen by the faculty.
"I feel incredibly honored yet undeserving of this award," said Hintz, who will graduate with a 3.9 GPA. "I would never be where I am today without the support of my family and the school. These opportunities will stick with me as motivation to work even harder in the future."