Published on 2012/05/14
Earning advanced degrees as an adult allows students to step outside their comfort zone, learn new things and advance further in their careers and lives as a result. Photo by Jan Smith.

To understand your future you must take a moment to understand your past, and what brings you to the point of change. For me the turning point of change was found in higher education.

Upon completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at a traditional brick and mortar university, I was excited to venture into my first corporate job and begin putting my academic learning to the test. It was satisfying for the first few years, but was short lived as I found the need to understand the daily pecuniary functions and internal operations of an organization that made it sustainable in a competitive arena. I should probably mention that I chose an industry [engineering] that was primarily male dominated, and at times as a woman, competing in this arena I felt insufficient. While my co-workers were busy strategizing about economic factors that were affecting the organization, ways to cultivate new business leads, and competing in a diverse global market, I was not able to contribute to the conversation because I simply did not understand it. This is when I realized to be competitive I needed to gain a better understanding of business in general.

I decided in 2005 that I would explore opportunities to earn my MBA. It was not an easy choice because I was balancing a full time job, community obligations, family obligations, and the overwhelming desire to reach new heights with my education. After considering my college choices both on ground and online, I chose an online university because I could attend classes on my own schedule and my professional and personal obligations would not be affected. I also considered different types of programs—some longer than others, some with more structure, some with less structure—and finally settled on an accelerated MBA program at American InterContinental University (AIU) Online because they offered a 10-month MBA program with a minor concentration in my passion, marketing.

It was a rigorous program, rich in learning and depth. I was like a sponge. I spent most nights and weekends working on papers, building my business acumen to the extent that I felt comfortable stepping into those once-shied-away-from conversations with my male counterparts. I was so enveloped in the online platform and the value it was adding to my professional tool bag, that I decided once I completed my MBA, I did not want to stop learning—I wanted to go further and earn my doctorate. In mid-2009 I began my journey into pursuing my doctorate in business administration from Walden University Online. In just three years, I completed my terminal degree. I was able to use my knowledge straight away in my corporate job. Earning my doctorate has changed my life in all the best ways. I never thought a graphic designer from a small town in Florida would grow into a college professor working for several mainstream universities teaching the very subjects I felt inadequate in just a few years prior.

The online academic platform provided me with all of the standard reasons most virtual degree seekers will share (i.e., convenience, freedom, work at your own pace, etc.). What might come as a surprise to some, for me it also satisfied a few other needs such as personal confidence building, providing an even playing field among the sexes, and the confidentiality of instructor feedback.

I realized the main reason I sought higher education in an online platform was the equality it brings to the classroom. No matter your gender, nationality or cultural beliefs, online universities offer a safe learning environment where professionals share professional (and at times personal) experiences, knowledge and academic arguments in an industrious way. I was in an environment where I shared my experiences with others who were business leaders, mangers, and decision makers—this was invaluable to a graphic designer who was determined to learn more, but did not have the experience. I was building my knowledge and learning from the best in the business. I was receiving feedback from my peers on my thoughts and ideas, which enabled me to apply it to existing work situations and develop solutions we all could benefit from.

Going back to school changed my life is so many positive ways and the online platform provided me with confidence to step out of the bounded shell I placed myself in and unveiled a smart, business savvy woman who now gives back to students through higher education.

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Readers Comments

Daniela Thomas 2012/05/14 at 11:34 am

I can relate to a lot of this; I did advanced degrees to help with my ability to organize projects and tasks and managed to move up into a management position.

However, I think the benefits of an advanced degree are as useful for men as they are for women.

Paul Maurice 2012/05/14 at 2:07 pm

Interesting — I would have thought that doing the program in-class (engaging in discussion with other pupils) would have a better impact on confidence than doing it online.

Did you complete your entire degree online, or just a few courses?

Dr. Lee Ann Walker 2012/05/14 at 7:39 pm

@ Daniela: I would agree the degree is equal to men and women, which is why stated it provides equality – I was finally able to feel comfortable in a setting that did not judge me based on what anyone thought I knew, looked like, or current/past achievements. The online platform was not about whom I knew, it was about who I would become.

@ Paul: My MBA and DBA were both completed online. Some function better in a traditional setting, but for me the traditional setting was not the right platform for my thoughts. I didn’t like instance feedback – I am not an instant person. I need time to think about topics and research them, coming up with the right answer that addresses all sides, often times missing opportunities in my traditional BFA classes because my brain does not process things quickly, I am an analytical type.

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