Friday, November 4, 2011

Retired Navy Seabee charts new voyage with his Post University MBA degree

When we interviewed Kenneth Tolley a couple weeks ago, I thought he gave a lot of important guidance on entering the civilian workforce after serving in the military. Kenneth spent 20 years as a Navy Seabee before retiring in 2009. He's now Assistant Program Manager for NCI Information Systems outside of Washington, D.C.

As a former Army lieutenant colonel myself, Kenneth's perspectives struck a chord with me. I wanted to make sure you didn't miss one piece of his advice, so today I'm posting the transcript of our interview so you catch every word. Read on to learn:

Janelle: Hi everyone. I'm Janelle Kozyra, your host for a Post University podcast. Today, we are joined by Kenneth Tolley. And Kenneth is the Assistant Program Manager for NCI Information Systems in the Washington, D.C. area. He has had a long and impressive career with the U.S. Navy and he recently earned his MBA from Post University. So it's good to have you with us today, Kenneth.

Kenneth: Hello, everybody. Good to be here.

Janelle: So let's get to know you a little bit better. Why don't you tell us about your professional and military background.

Kenneth: Okay, well, I can just start back from when I joined the Navy. It was back in 1988, and decided to elect to get the GI Bill. However, I didn't actually start using that portion of the college assistance from the Navy until actually towards the end of my 20-year career. So actually spent 20 years as a Navy CB going around different parts of the world, stationed many different places, too long of a list to really go over that right now so I'll just speed things up.

I retired back 2009, and before then, I had already started working on my bachelor's degree and then finished it up actually in 2009. But I started that in 2006. So after graduated from that university, it took me about 3 months or so to start looking for a graduate program, primarily MBA.

So that's for a little bit of history. Now, as far as work and where I am at now in my civilian career, I'm sure we're talk about this a little bit. But a lot of things that happened to me as a student at Post University had a direct reflection on my work career now and where I'm at as Assistant Program Manager.

Janelle: So you earned your bachelor's degree in 2009. Where did you earn that from?

Kenneth: That was Grantham University.

Janelle: And so it wasn't too long before you decided that you wanted to pursue an MBA. It was just a few months. So what made you want to get your MBA?

Kenneth: Well, you know, I still had some money left on my GI Bill and if you don't use it within so many years, well, you lose it. So well it made sense. I had my bachelor's degree and it was in business administration, so I started looking for a college that provided an MBA that was also cost effective for me. And so I wouldn't use up all of my GI Bill and end up paying some out of pocket.

So cost was involved, and also ranking. Now for Post University, it took me three months and a little bit of research on the internet to really narrow it down from maybe 20 colleges down to three. So at that point, I was looking for cost and how long the college has been around. To me, that's a factor.

I know Post University's been around a long time. So that was a plus for me. Not for everybody, but that was for me. And also, the class sizes and also how many professors the college has also was a factor. And Post University, for me, covered all those areas.

So doing my research online and reading some of the positive feedback I got from some student comments on different websites is when I decided to go ahead and call Post, see what the requirements are, and see if I can actually get in.

Janelle: So tell us about that phone call. Who did you talk to and how did the conversation go?

Kenneth: Well, I called and then I had to talk to a military advisor, at first. I can't remember his name right now, but it went very well. He helped me out to get the paperwork together, so that was a process.

Janelle: So what was it about the support that Post has in place for military personnel that made you decide that Post was the right choice for you?

Kenneth: Well it's great to have, I think they have two individuals now. When I first called, I think, it was only one individual at the time, but it was great support and even some follow up phone calls as well. Paperwork was really cut and dry, really simple to fill out, and letters of recommendation were really easy.

I think the hardest part was getting my supervisors to write something for me. Everything else on the Post University side was really easy. So very helpful up front before I was even started there as a student.

Janelle: And Kenneth, one of the things that brought us together today, just to give our readers a little bit of a background was that you recently wrote a testimonial on Post's LinkedIn page and so that's how we sort of connected today.

So one of the things that you wrote in your testimonial was the MBA program at Post University was, "for me, the hardest thing I have done yet in my life. It was an overwhelming challenge, but one worth undertaking."

That's certainly impressive, considering your professional experience and your military experience. So what sorts of intellectual challenges did you experience during your Post University education?

Kenneth: Well, what I like about Post University is that the professors didn't hold you by the hand. I'm not saying all colleges do that, but Post's professors had you do the course work. They were there for you 100 percent if you had a question. You can either email them -- they even offered their home phone numbers.

So all the professors that I had dealings with during my time as a student were very nice and very easy. I had one teacher go out on vacation. While she was on vacation, she was still conversing with our cohort and also you could call her and she would have been there for you too.

But she was still on the discussion boards and helping everybody out. So that was very impressive. That's probably unheard of, but that's how Post is. It was great support.

Janelle: So just to clarify for our listeners out there, Kenneth was in Post's Online MBA Program. So was this your first experience in an online program, Kenneth?

Kenneth: No. No actually Grantham University was my first for online experience but it was different there. It was better with Post University. I like how they have it set up for you to go in. You're in a class of 12, or maybe a little bit more than that. But the class discussion along with your group was great because that helps you learn as well.

Not only do you have the problem that they're discussing, a lot of the students have the same problem, so you're learning from all that feedback and interaction from one another. So I mean, it's great. I like that. Unlike my first experience where my online experience was not like that.

Janelle: So tell us a little bit more about the instructors and the interaction you were able to have with them. Because you're not physically meeting with them. It's all online, yet you found that as an advantage, would you say, in the overall education?

Kenneth: Yeah I mean while we were online, it's real time, really. It's kind of like doing a chat session, if you will. You can go ahead and ask Post a question on there. If one of the students wasn't helping you or giving you some feedback, a lot of the time instructors were giving you help.

Some of them call them "office hours," and they're available from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. or from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. or whatever. You knew what time they were going to be on. So you try to be on there when they're on there. If you had a question, you'd pose it to them, they're on there, and immediately you got feedback.

And if that didn't satisfy you and you needed some one-on-one help, a telephone call or an email is what I did as well. Because sometimes, you didn't want all the other students seeing some personal, or not really personal questions, but you wanted to pose that to the professor directly. And that was available as well so that was great.

A lot professors at other schools would not give you their email address or their university email address. You know it's not available. It's either on the chat board itself or it's nothing. Or maybe a phone call and that was it. But for Post University, it was not like that at all.

Janelle: How has your experience with Post's Online MBA Program shaped your overall perception of online education in general in this country?

Kenneth: Well, from my experience, this is only my second time as a online student. I feel Post University's definitely doing it right in how they approach the students on and offline and the chat sessions. When you're actively in a course, and even afterwards, the support is still there. I even had talked to Dr. Morose here just recently, via email.

I mean, even after you have graduated, you still reach out to some of your past professors for advice or something like that. That's been my experience. But back to your original question, I think they're doing it right. I think if somebody out there, who's really looking for a different approach in how the professors approach the students while you were online, then you have no fear. There's nothing to worry about, because they're going to support you.

Janelle: What would you say is or was the biggest benefit of Post's MBA program?

Kenneth: I think the biggest benefit for me was even before I was due to graduate, my supervisor and above him decided, even while I was about mid-ways through the program, to go ahead and advance me up to the next level as Assistant Program Manager. So that was a big benefit, because they knew eventually I was going to get the MBA because I had already passed the midway point.

Janelle: So your MBA degree enabled you to attain a higher position at your job?

Kenneth: Yes, from Post. And then now, I'm poised to go and be the actual Program Manager probably sometime between April and June of next year. So I'll be taking over my supervisor's job.

Janelle: That's great. So tell us about the new experience or new responsibilities that you're going to be taking on.

Kenneth: Well, definitely I attribute that to Post University, because for me, I went through the leadership portion of the MBA program and it's definitely helped me and gotten me ready for that new challenge. And it's different from when being assistant to your manager. Now you're becoming the manager, even though there's a great responsibility, I definitely feel that Post University has prepared me for that transition.

I guess not having the MBA, it probably would have been a little bit harder to take on that responsibility. That's how I feel. That's how Post University has prepared me.

Janelle: Do you feel that the MBA program helped you to develop skills necessary for coping in an ever-changing work world? I mean, because as you're rising through the ranks of the your own position, your responsibilities are changing, your duties are changing, who you're working with is changing, so how do you feel that you can flex to all of those changing dynamics?

Kenneth: Yeah most definitely, because even as you're a student in the MBA Program, you do have those changes and things. And definitely towards the end, and I don't want to give that away, because there's some things you have to go through towards the end. The very last class, as a matter of fact, so there is some definite ups and downs and some some challenges that you have to get through towards the end of the program.

And I feel that right there, knowing what I know now, looking back, I could say well I see why I was put through that towards the end. It was a great experience and it helped me to be who I am now.

Janelle: So just to clarify for our readers from a timeline perspective, you earned your MBA last year, correct?

Kenneth: Yes. December was my very last class, December of 2010.

Janelle: And then when did you find out that you would be promoted to Program Manager?

Kenneth: That was shortly after, we're talking February of this year, actually, because that's when I found out that my immediate supervisor was going to be retiring next year.

Janelle: So it really was a nice chain of events then for you? I mean, you got the degree and then an opening presented itself.

Kenneth: Yeah I could say this for sure -- I was told by my upper chain of command, or my upper management, I should say, that that was contingent on me getting the MBA. I would have the program manager's job if I finished through the MBA Program. So that was a challenge as well, to get through it, because I knew that if I did, then that extra promotion would be there.

Janelle: So looking back on your experience with Post, what sorts of take aways might you have for someone who is considering going back to school to earn their MBA and is not sure where to go, and is kind of still feeling out the lay of the land? What sorts of advice would you give them to kind of help them figure out what school is right for them?

Kenneth: Well definitely do some research because all colleges are different. I happened just to stumble across Post University, so you definitely have to do a little bit of research and check other students to see what they're saying about the university as well. That's what I did. I actually read about other students that had recently graduated three or four months before I decided to become a student.

So definitely check out, and also, like I said, how many professors they have. I think that shows the university that you're researching is dedicated and will be dedicated to you. Because a lot of the Post University professors actually work in their career field and they're actually instructing in the classroom or also online.

So you're not just getting a professor that had a Ph. D. They actually have a Ph. D, but they actually worked in that field, and some of them still do. So that was great. I never heard of that either. Usually, when you become a professor, that's what you're doing. But some of these professors still actually maintain a business.

I think I had a few professors that even still had their own business. So that was great, too. So they bring a real life work environment, real life experiences into the classroom, even online. So that's great. That's a great benefit. But you know, sometimes, you might not be able to find that out via research online and just calling a university. You would not know that unless you actually pulled up their profile online and then you could sway your opinion that way.

Janelle: So for a student in Post's MBA Program, or a student who might be just about to start Post's MBA Program, what advice would you give them to help them get the most out of the program or what do you think they should know going into the program?

Kenneth: I'd definitely have a good internet connection, that's for sure. For me, because I was an online student, every day counted. And you gotta stay dedicated. You can't miss one night of reading or doing some homework or starting a paper, a essay, research paper, whatever it may be.

My power was down three nights because of the power outage and power didn't get back up until three days later, so I was three days behind. However, the professors of that particular class allowed me to extend out tjree more days past the due date of a paper I had to submit.

But that's the only big thing I would say -- make sure you definitely have a good internet connection, you have good software, and a good writing program. I actually used White Smoke. I don't think a lot of people know about that particular program, but anyway, definitely great, especially if you write a lot and do articles, blogging on that, and even email. It checks everything.

So definitely get a good writing program and also the APA manual, definitely have that. That's a really read from cover to cover, because it will definitely help your writing. Post University definitely pushes you to write, and I'm glad because I like writing now. Before Post, I hated writing essays. Well, you know, nobody likes it, but coming out on the other end of the MBA, I mean, I like it now. I actually write articles now on the different websites. But I do enjoy it and before Post, I did not look forward to doing any type of research paper.

Janelle: Any last parting thoughts for our readers, Kenneth?

Kenneth: Yeah, definitely look into Post University. Give it a second look. If you looked it over and you're looking at going somewhere else, another online university, definitely give it another look. If you're in the military, call the military advisors there at Post. They'll steer you right, and then once you're actually a student, you've got great support on the front end and the back end and even when you're in the middle of the program.

It's great support. So the support staff there at Post University is dedicated to a woman named Stephanie Staff. I believe that's her name, she helped me out tremendously. She paired me up for two classes each semester. That is kind of hard to do, to do two at one time, but she paired them up perfectly for me. And that was great support as well, because I was kind of in the dark about which ones should I pick and can be paired up together. She did a wonderful job for me.

Janelle: Thanks Kenneth, thank you for spending some time with us today.

Kenneth: OK. I'm glad I had a chance and opportunity to do this for Post University.

Janelle: And again, for all of our listeners out there, that was Kenneth Tolley, one of Post University's 2010 MBA Graduates.

What questions would you have for Kenneth to help you learn more about entering the civilian workforce after serving in the military?