Growing up in Northern California during the 70s and 80s, presented many opportunities for an eager mind … clean air and beautiful open fields of trees and orchards. Today, the San Jose area is practically unrecognizable to what J.D. Wyczalek, (why-zall-ick) founder of AZCollegePlanning.com, experienced during his childhood.
“When my father was 12, his family took the famous road trip from Buffalo, New York along Route 66 to the west coast,” says Wyczalek. “After returning home, my dad informed his parents that when he got married, he was moving west. And he did.”
Some may describe Wyczalek and his siblings’ childhood as the “American Dream.” His father was a doctor, his mother was a teacher and the next door neighbor was a police officer, but Wyczalek knew that his dreams were different.
“Growing up, I thought I wanted to be Spiderman,” laughs Wyczlek. “I soon realized that job was taken and there weren’t any radioactive spiders around to help me out.”
Wyczalek found inspiration in another TV show “Thirty-Something” that led him to pursue a career in graphic design in Los Angeles at Biola University in 1984, where he met his wife, Jennifer.
“During my time at Biola, I took an internship at a graphic design firm and soon realized it wasn’t for me,” says Wyczalek. “And as graduation loomed closer, I found myself lost wondering what I wanted to do.”
After working in retail and other jobs, Wyczalek’s friend asked him to consider getting into information technology versus graphic design.
By this time, Wyczalek and his wife had married and began to start a family. Following in his father’s footsteps, he made the decision to head down Route 66 in search of a place that presented the same experiences he had growing up.
“Together, we decided we wanted to raise our family in a place similar to what Northern California was in the 70s and 80s before the Silicon Valley exploded,” says Wyczalek.
Upon relocating to North Phoenix, Wyczalek took a position at Chaparral High School in the IT department, but soon found himself with an opportunity to connect with students as well.
“I found myself listening to the students, being available to talk to them about everything from relationships to picking classes and trying to figure out what they wanted to do after high school,” says Wyczalek. “And that’s when it clicked for me, I had a passion for helping teens in a way that I wish I had been helped at their age.”
By 2007, Wyczalek was a father of three himself and had founded AZCollegePlanning.com, with the mission of helping teens and pre-teens determine what they might want to study after high school; potential traditional and nontraditional career paths; colleges and universities they should consider; and how to best position themselves for not only acceptance into the schools of their choice, but what scholarships and grants might be available to provide financial assistance.
“We often view college as expanding our education, but I like to emphasis the life-long relationships that are made during this time,” says Wyczalek. “Like me, my college roommate is one of my best friends and of course, I met my wife, too.”
Over the past 13 years, AZCollegePlanning.com has helped an estimated 4,000 students – primarily from across Arizona as well as students from other states and abroad – not only earn their way into school, but garner anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000 in scholarships per student along the way.
Each of his three children attended four-year universities and earned scholarships, and Wyczalek has passed his passion for helping others on to his family.
“We spend a lot of time volunteering,” says Wyczalek. “From food drives, donating home-cooked meals to working with various faith-based organizations, we love to give back where we can.”
Now empty-nesters, Wyczalek and his wife make it a point to not forget the reasons that attracted them to Arizona.
“We spend a lot of time outdoors, hiking and exploring,” says Wyczalek. “Arizona has truly become our home. And of course, driving the back roads of Route 66.”
Written by: Autumn Jarrett
Autumn Jarrett earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations and a certificate in marketing and sales from Arizona State University, before joining HMA Public Relations in 2019. Originally from Decatur, Ill., Jarrett moved to Arizona to attend ASU without ever visiting the campus or even the state of Arizona.