Monday, January 16, 2012

The importance of good timing for working adults going back to school

Good timing is crucial when it comes to many things in life. Emailing a major report to your boss just as he calls you asking about the status. Swerving to avoid a fender bender when a driver pulls out too fast from a parking lot. Making the last train home for the day, just in the nick of time. Meeting your spouse on that train. Time is indeed of the essence.

But this also holds true when it comes to going back to school as a working adult. Time, it seems, is not on your side when you have to juggle a family, a job, life -- and try to squeeze in some "me" time. But good timing can have a way of helping adult learners achieve their dreams. One case in point is Mike Simaitis, who went back to school to complete his MBA at Post University, and will be graduating this May.

He gave a bit of his story in the testimonial he wrote about his experience at Post University, and expanded on it when we interviewed him for a podcast. Today, we bring you the transcript of our interview.

You can read it below, where Mike talks about his aha! moment to go back to school, and why it was the right time for him to complete his MBA. He also offers up some advice to other working adults who are considering going back to school.



Janelle: Hi, everyone. Janelle Kozyra here for a Post University podcast. Today we are joined by Mike Simaitis, who is one of Post's current MBA students. We connected originally because he shared a story about why he's attending Post in a discussion board for one of his classes with Doug Brown, who is the Academic Program Manager for Post's online MBA program. Doug contacted Mike asking if it would be OK if we shared his testimonial on Post's blog, and he was happy to do so, so we have posted that. We also asked Mike if he'd be up for a podcast to talk more about his experience at Post, and he was happy to join us. So today we're together to talk with Mike. Mike, it's good to have you with us.

Mike: Hi. It's nice to join you. Thanks for having me.

Janelle: So let's start off, Mike, by having you tell us where you're from and where you live now.

Mike: Well, I grew up in Connecticut. I live in Litchfield right now. Been in this area for most of my life.

Janelle: So tell us a little bit of background on you professionally and also personally.

Mike: OK. I've been working in the area since graduating from Post. I actually went to Post University -- or Post College back then -- to get my undergraduate degree in accounting. Actually obtained my first accounting position prior to graduation and have worked at a couple of different manufacturing companies in Connecticut since 1986. Over the course of the last 25 or so years, I've had the opportunity to go back to Post also for a certificate in human resource management as the business needs changed, and Post offered the opportunity, actually, to get the education I needed to have confidence in completing those responsibilities.

Janelle: So where do you work now?

Mike: I work for BD in Canaan, Conn., right now.

Janelle: Tell us a little bit about BD, the size of it, how many employees it has, and your position within the company.

Mike: The corporation is worldwide and there's more than 20,000 employees. The manufacturing plant that I work for in Canaan, Conn., has over 300 employees. We produce hypodermic syringes here in Connecticut and really serve pretty much the entire United States with hypodermic syringes.

Janelle: So you said that you got your undergraduate degree in accounting from Post, you have your certificate in human resource management also from Post. And then tell us where you went from there education-wise.

Mike: Well, it's been probably about eight years or so, and I have wanted to get my MBA for many years. I actually started right after my undergraduate degree, but I stopped. Life was very busy. It was difficult commuting to school, so I stopped. But I always wanted to go back and finish it. And it had been in the back of my mind as my kids are getting through college and my oldest earned his master's degree. And I was driving actually through Waterbury one day, and listening to the radio I heard a commercial for Post University's online MBA program. I just happened to drive a few miles farther down the road, and I saw a billboard for Post University's online program. And it was the first I had heard that we had an online opportunity at Post. Since I went there for my undergraduate degree, I knew the quality of education was definitely top-notch. So I decided to investigate it and see what it would take to get into the program.

Janelle: So where did you start your MBA originally?

Mike: I was at the University of New Haven in Waterbury. So, yeah, it was difficult with work and then to take care of that after work at the end of the day.

Janelle: How far along were you able to get before you realized that you had to put your MBA on hold?

Mike: I was probably halfway through. I had a good year invested in it.

Janelle: So it sounds like the stars aligned for you this one day, and that was sort of your aha! moment to complete your MBA.

Mike: It was. I called the school to see what it would take, what information they would need from me. And I spoke with an admissions counselor, Joanna, and she was very good at getting the information that I needed and following up with me. Being very busy, trying to juggle a bunch of things and exploring this opportunity -- which I knew was going to add more work to my day -- I got caught up in stuff and I might have been slow to react. But she was great at following up and making sure that I got registered in the next mod and I figured I would give it a try, and see how it would work with one mod. If I could get the work done and still balance the rest of work and life then I would continue. And also it was my first online experience and I wasn't really sure what to expect. So getting through that first class and just the rigor that it took to keep up with the class, I knew that this was going to be a quality program and I decided to see it all the way through.

Janelle: So what really drove you to complete your MBA -- because you said that you always wanted to finish it -- but deep down what was really driving you to finish your degree?

Mike: Well, you know, it was always something that I wanted to do -- earn a master's degree. And back in 1986, there really wasn't that many MBAs and people with master's competing for positions. But I have noticed, especially over the last 10 to 15 years, competition for the better jobs is getting fierce and a lot of jobs that never required a CPA or an MBA in the past are now requiring them. So I figured to position myself for the future and not knowing what's coming, what opportunities might pop up, I wanted to be in the best competitive position I could be.

Janelle: Now why did the online offering attract you?

Mike: You know, for me a regular work week was always between 50 to 60 hours, and it wasn't unusual to throw a 70-hour week in the mix. So committing to traveling to a live classroom, I knew I could not make that commitment. I knew I would run into issues in being able to attend class and I didn't see myself actually being successful that way. The online program offered me the opportunity to take care of my coursework as my time allowed, and it actually worked out very well to build it in at the end of my day at home. To sit down and focus the last couple of hours a day on the work I needed to do for school.

Janelle: So let's get into that a little bit more, your experience getting an MBA from Post and doing it online. Tell us about the online learning format and what it was like to interact with your instructors and peers online.

Mike: I did find every one of the professors to be subject-matter experts in all the courses that we took. I mean, they were definitely top-notch. The courses were challenging and that was something I was looking for because I didn't want to just go through the motions. I wanted to really get something out of it. And the coursework was challenging. There was plenty of reference material, opportunity to do research and improve my writing skills quite a bit over the course of the two years in the number of papers that I had to do. And the discussion board interaction with the other students in the course was far more beneficial to the learning experience than I imagined. There was some very good discussion. And I'd say that was a significant piece of the learning because the students within the courses had such diverse backgrounds. Our discussion would have viewpoints from every different angle, so it really gave you a chance to open up your mind and hear people's opinions from different backgrounds, different experiences in life, different work experience. The age range was from recent college graduates to folks like me later in their careers going back to school. So it was a great learning experience that way.

Janelle: So it sounds like you learned as much from your instructors, perhaps, as you did from your peers in your classes.

Mike: I would agree. That's a fair statement. Listening to everyone's work life experiences and continuing the discussions was very beneficial.

Janelle: Do you think that dynamic is something you could find through some other avenue, or do you think that benefit that you just described of learning online is something unique to getting your MBA online?

Mike: I think it's unique to getting an MBA online. I'm not aware of anything like that right now that might exist from some other source.

Janelle: What do you think you like best about the program?

Mike: The eight-week courses I thought was a good timeframe. It was long enough to cover the material. The mods following back-to-back offered most every class every mod, so over the duration of the program I only took one mod off, a two-week window. Otherwise I went straight through. And just having that opportunity to take a class just about every mod made it very convenient to fit your schedule.

Janelle: So were you able to go one mod after the other or did you find that you needed to take a break here or there to take care of whatever other life or family responsibilities you might have had going on?

Mike: No, except for one break where I was going on a two-week vacation right at the start of a mod which would have put me behind right from the beginning, I went straight through and that worked out very well for me.

Janelle: So you are now about to graduate, I understand?

Mike: That's correct. Just finished the US699, the last course, or Capstone Project.

Janelle: And so what will be your graduation date?

Mike: That's a good question. I think it's in May, I'm not sure of the exact date, but at this point I think I've met all the requirements. I believe we have to wait until May, actually, to get the diploma.

Janelle: How long did it take you to pick up where you left off when you originally started your MBA to complete it at Post?

Mike: You mean from my first experience where I stopped halfway through?

Janelle: From where you picked up with Post and completed it. Just your time with Post. How long was that?

Mike: I think I started, it was either late May or June of 2009 and I just finished in December of 2011.

Janelle: Got it.

Mike: And with one two-month break in there. So it was less than two and a half years.

Janelle: Would you say that the Post MBA program has been a good return on your investment?

Mike: Absolutely. I definitely feel that going through the MBA program and having a great deal of work experience already, it reinforced a lot of what I thought I knew before. It was good to see that. And also it provided me a great deal of additional insight and leadership management in business that will help me obtain that next position in the company.

Janelle: So is that what you are going for next, once you have your degree or even now with what you're able to take back into your career today?

Mike: Well, you know, as I've progressed through the course, I've applied learning from every course immediately into my work life. I feel it's made an impact on the company and my responsibilities in my role at this plant. I think I've been able to improve the performance of my team here and it's prepared me for future positions. So you never know what that next job opening is going to be, but now I feel more confident going after the next one that I'll be able to compete with anybody else in the company who might be pursuing it. And something else that I've always wanted to do that's kind of been in the back of my mind was to teach. And I think I would shortly begin looking into opportunities for what I can teach at the college level with an MBA.

Janelle: And you also mentioned in your post that you had published on the discussion board that you are preparing to help your children with a new business venture in the near future, and you mentioned how your MBA is helpful in that regard. So can you tell us more about that?

Mike: You know, the great thing about the program was -- and I was in the corporate innovation track -- but as you go through there's a lot of entrepreneurs and we got a lot of information together about marketing plans and business plans and all of the concepts and requirements of putting together a good business plan. So in the future working with them on a business opportunity, I'm going to have a good background to help pull all that together.

Janelle: Can you share a little bit about what this business venture is going to be?

Mike: Not exactly sure timing-wise, but kind of a physical therapy/sports medicine type of operation.

Janelle: So your children are in that field?

Mike: They're in health care fields, yeah.

Janelle: Great. How many children do you have?

Mike: I have five.

Janelle: They're all in that field or …

Mike: No, three of them are. And the other two are still in school.

Janelle: So as you were considering going back to school to get your MBA, were your children part of that decision?

Mike: No, actually three of them were already either in school or had finished school, and two were still in high school at the time I started. But it was just seeing them going through school and talking about the things they were doing, it kind of sparked my interest again to go back and pick it up. And timing-wise the advertisements for Post's program were perfect because I was really getting interested in doing it again and the time was starting to open up where the kids were old enough and on their own or pretty much self-sufficient where I knew I'd have the time to commit to it again.

Janelle: So would you recommend earning a degree online to other working adults?

Mike: I absolutely would. You know, there's no limit to the education that you should pursue. I mean, continuous improvement is a good idea for everybody and online programs really offer you the flexibility you need to juggle work, life, and school.

Janelle: What other major pieces of advice would you give to other working adults who are interested in pursuing an online program? What would you tell them to help them succeed in an online program?

Mike: I think what worked for me was just setting aside a portion of the day, which was kind of the end of the day, where I would just get into a routine and take care of the research or the paper writing or discussion board activities and just kind of made it a habit and made it part of my day. And after a while it just becomes routine and you just -- the time just clicks by and before you know it, you know, you're on your last course.

Janelle: So do you plan to attend graduation in May?

Mike: I do, yes.

Janelle: Great.

Mike: It will be the first opportunity to meet all the classmates I've had over these couple of years.

Janelle: Yeah, and probably your instructors as well.

Mike: That's true. Yes, the instructors as well.

Janelle: Well, we wish the best of luck to you, Mike, and we look forward to seeing you at graduation.

Mike: All right, thank you.

Janelle: Thank you.