From Poverty to PhD: A FIERCE Tale to Tell

Friday, August 13, 2021
Carolyn Colleen


When Carolyn Colleen (Bostrack) ’07, ’10 decided to write a book, she didn’t have to search far and wide for the book’s narrative. Why not tell her own story of overcoming crushing adversity and hardship to earn three college degrees?  By tapping into her entrepreneurial instincts and skills she paved her own path to success and helping others, all while rearing three children.

And why not include lessons that readers, especially women, can take from her experiences to improve their own lives and have a positive impact on the world?

Carolyn Colleen FIERCE book

She called her first book F.I.E.R.C.E.: Transform Your Life in the Face of Adversity 5 Minutes at a Time, publishing it in 2016. Since then, Colleen has established herself as an international transformational speaker, life and business strategist, and educational entrepreneur. “FIERCE” is her brand.

Colleen’s FIERCE isn’t the kind involving aggressive hostility. FIERCE, as she explains it, “Doesn’t mean you have to crush anyone else. You’re standing with integrity in your values with both power and grace.”

Growing up in La Crosse, she struggled with myriad challenges that derail most people before they can even build up steam in life. Soon after graduating from Central High School in 1995, Colleen married and  became a young mother. While she considers motherhood one of life’s greatest blessings, her marriage was abusive and ended in divorce.

Determined to find a path to success, Colleen started working on a degree at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, focusing her studies on international business, French, and Spanish. Meanwhile, she was holding down multiple jobs and caring for her infant daughter and younger sister.

“I was not a traditional student by any means” Colleen said. “I tried and I tried and I tried, but it just wasn’t working.”

Somebody urged her to check out Viterbo University. An admissions counselor helped her figure out a path to a degree that meshed with her life. “She said, ‘We can make this work. It doesn’t have to be so hard,’” Colleen said. “I registered, and hit the ground running.”

Transferring as a junior, she earned her Bachelor of Business Administration and went straight into Viterbo’s Master of Business Administration program.

By the time she began working on her doctoral degree from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, she was married again and had two young sons. That’s when she decided it was time to write her book.

To find time to work on the book, Colleen would get up at 4 a.m. and write until her boys woke up, and then she’d be back at it in the evening after family time was over. Like most things she does, Colleen went at it full force, fiercely.

“I felt it was worth all the effort if my story could help just one person make sense of their story,” Colleen said. “I felt I could help people unlock the door to their mental jail that might be holding them back.”

Colleen has two new books in the works, one on academic entrepreneurship and a companion to her first book called F.I.E.R.C.E. and Fulfilled. It’s hard not to wonder where she finds the time, considering all she has going on.

Carolyn Colleen family

In addition to caring for her sons, 11 and 9, she presides over a private school she started (Acton Academy), does speaking engagements, takes part in three to five podcasts per week, and runs her FIERCE Network and 1Life Fully Lived, a nonprofit that aims to “elevate people going through adversity.” She also serves on the board of directors of La Crosse area organizations that once provided her with help, including the Salvation Army, the Family and Children’s Center, and the United Way.

The common thread that runs through everything Colleen does, including writing books, is a desire to help others overcome their challenges and succeed. “Truly what I’m after is impact,” she said. “I love the feeling of fulfillment it brings my heart knowing I have been able to provide impact and transformation.”