On the fence about an advanced degree?
Looking down the road at the stress, juggling and homework and not always being able to see where that road leads can be a deterrent. But, adults in a variety of fields who have returned to school to pursue their advanced degrees have found it rewarding — both professionally and personally.
A whole new world
Frances Kraft worked in corporate communication, but saw in her daughters' schools an educational achievement gap between races. She wanted to do something about it and decided to pursue her Master in Teaching (MAT) degree at Dominican University. Her connections with faculty combined with the power of her degree have helped her realize a dream. She developed a Power of Partnerships (PoP) program as part of her master's program with support of the dean and several professors. The program partners the school with a high school and college. They train older students in need of experience and they help students with homework and working on academic skills. Kraft approached Suzie Hackmiller, the principal of O.W. Holmes Elementary School in District 97 with the idea for PoP and she completely supported it and invited Kraft to complete her student teaching at Holmes in the fall of 2009. That led to a job as a fifth-grade teacher at Holmes and she is in the fourth year of coordinating the PoP after school program serving elementary age children struggling academically.
"My MAT degree from Dominican allowed me to make the career change into education," Kraft says. "Instead of attending meetings about the achievement gap, reading newspaper articles, and trying to understand it as an outsider, I have been able to work directly with students who are struggling. With knowledge from the Dominican classroom and 100 hours of field experience, I feel I had an excellent foundation when I accepted the position at Holmes as a fifth-grade teacher."
A step ahead
Although Jim McDermet's undergraduate degree is in education he took a corporate job with Burger King in the 1970s and the fast food chained experienced major growth for the next two decades.
"One thing led to another," McDermet says. "It was growing so rapidly and my career latched onto that."
He climbed the ranks and eventually became regional vice president of Burger King Corp. in the Midwest and moved to Naperville.
McDermet was interested in continuing his trajectory and began researching MBA programs — with no shortage of choices in the Chicagoland area. He landed on a program at North Central College in Naperville that was new at the time and focused on leadership and change — areas of great interest to McDermet.
"For 20 years I gained experience in operations, store development, human resources. I certainly learned a lot on the job, but I needed and desired to get more technical training."
In addition to learning more about the ways of the business world, McDermet studied leadership styles, learned to be more effective in written communication, planning strategies, being a leader during change and doing oral presentations. It gave him time to do research for his thesis.
"That's not something that I would have done in my day-to-day work — the deeper research," he says.
After graduation McDermet took a job with Burger King in Miami leading a team that looked at different retail store opportunities that eventually led to the restaurant going from free standing buildings to being placed in food courts, airports and gas station complexes.
"It was ignited by all this conversation and learning I had around embracing change," he says of taking a new position and leaving the security of his former job title. "I'm not certain I would have done that without the benefit of the (MBA) program," McDermet says. "It helped me look at the world in another way."
That new world view also gave McDermet the courage and know-how to start his own coffee company in Miami, which led to an opportunity to work as CEO and president of a sandwich and café chain in the northwest that eventually led to working with Starbucks — his current employer as senior vice president and general manager of their Seattle's Best coffee brand.
McDermet says the teachers, other students and what he learned, ignited a spark that just kept building.
Moving through the ranks
Royce Peppa wanted to advance her career in nursing and creating a plan to move forward professionally and educationally. An opportunity arose to attend a cohort group through Loyola University, Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing through her employer Advocate Health Care.
The degree led to a promotion to an advanced practice nurse position as well as involvement in higher-level projects and programs. Not just a step up the ladder, through the degree Peppa was able to expand her knowledge and evidence-based practice and is considered a clinical expert in her field of neuroscience nursing.
She says she would not have been promoted without the advanced degree.
Better job prospects
Salvatore Grasso chose to go right from earning a Bachelor of Science in biology from Loyola University to a Master of Science in biotechnology from Rush University Medical Center.
"After graduating with my bachelor's degree, the job market in my field was very small and I wanted to continue my education to better my potential for a job," he says. "In addition, the pursuit of science is a process of continued learning throughout life, and in this case I can further my professional career while improving my knowledge in the subject I enjoy."
The additional degree paid off. Grasso graduated in June 2011 and began a job as a lab technician in July.
"My employment opportunity is a direct result of the networking connections and technical knowledge I gained from my advanced degree," he says adding that advanced degrees allow for greater opportunities in his field.
Grasso believes an advanced degree is a major asset in the job market during these difficult economic times.
McDermet believes it is helpful to shop around finding a degree program that really fits . He says he found earning his MBA fun and thrilling.
"If you're doing it simply to check a box that says 'I got my MBA' but it doesn't inspire you, what are you doing it for?"