The Bourbeau family farm in Sheldon is iconic Vermont: Wide expanses of neatly-groomed fields surround stout red dairy barns and a cluster of tidy buildings where maple sap is boiled into syrup. Holsteins poke broad heads through open barn walls. Fields lie in even rows of freshly-mown hay, the grass deep green and fragrant. The farm is iconic for its beauty, but also because it proudly showcases the work ethic of its people. Walking across a gravel driveway, the history of the place is nearly palpable. The farm has been in the Bourbeau family since 1948, and the original brick farmhouse was built in the mid-nineteenth century.
The woman who labors behind the scenes here in Sheldon is Kimberly Bourbeau. She keeps track of each page of paperwork, each number, each letter, year after year. “I always have,” she says. “I always will.” She is the bookkeeper for this nearly 1,200-acre family farm, which couldn’t be what it is today without her. Like her husband and sons—whose chores keep them busy from dawn until dusk—her work is constant.
Kim is a 2016 graduate of the Community College of Vermont, where she received an associate degree in administrative management. She’d originally begun classes at CCV in the mid-‘80s, when her children were toddlers, but put her studies on hold to take advantage of a job opportunity. She spent over twenty years as a senior administrative assistant at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in St. Albans. She says she loved her job, but when the company went through a few changes it felt like the right time to make a change herself.
Earning a degree had long been a huge personal goal. Kim grew up in a family of eight children. “Our parents always taught us that if you want something, you need to work for it.” Of course, after decades of life on a farm, after juggling responsibilities to her family, her job, and keeping the books at home, she was no stranger to this idea. “These are the things that I’ve always done,” she says. “Even when I worked full time I still did all the books. I did it at night.” Despite the difficulty of taking on more coursework, of once again returning to school, Kim was determined to reach her goal. “I like to be challenged,” she says. “I like processes.”
Last spring, Kim made the decision to return to CCV. When she heard about the Assessment of Prior Learning (APL) course, it sounded like the perfect fit. APL offers “Credit for What You Know”: students spend a semester preparing an extensive portfolio that showcases skills and knowledge gained in a workplace or outside the classroom. Kim’s background in administration, as a bookkeeper, and in several different leadership roles at the St. Albans Elks Club gave her a wealth of experience from which to draw in creating her portfolio.
Kim requested twenty-five credits and was ultimately awarded thirty-two. She used this momentum to continue her coursework for three more semesters. Kim earned enough credits to graduate just one year after completing the APL course, reflecting an impressive savings in both time and money. “Especially time,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not getting any younger.”
While in school, Kim was able to keep all of her responsibilities to the farm. When asked how she found the time to manage it all, she replied, “You just do it. You do what you need to do. It’s worth it – there’s always that light at the end of the tunnel.” She says she would recommend the APL course to anyone.
Kim’s pride at having reached her long-time goal is abundantly evident. She says the accomplishment is not only a rewarding validation of her skill set, but that her coursework was also helpful in expanding and improving that skill set. She plans to remain the bookkeeper for the family’s dairy and maple syrup businesses and also pursue other work opportunities off the farm.
It’s obvious that Kim’s confident attitude and unwillingness to be daunted by challenges—indeed, her eager embrace of them—has influenced the success of the Bourbeau farm. The landscape surrounding her home is proof of this. Behind the scenes, Kim gets to show off her immaculate approach to business and bookkeeping. Best of all, she gets to show off a brand new college degree.