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Online Student Stories: How I Upskilled With an Online Degree

Sonya Krakoff

A Changing Workforce: Taking an Opportunity to Upskill

I worked full-time for thirty years with just an associate degree. Although I was successful professional, I always felt that my education was a disadvantage: I had so much experience but no four-year degree. As times got tighter and I got older, the need for a bachelor's degree became clearer.

I was motivated to pursue my goal when my employer, AT&T, announced their Workforce 2020 initiative. They told us that, to keep up with the changing market, they needed all of their employees to have certain technical skills, like cyber, AI, big data, software, and network visualization, by the year 2020. They gave us some options for building these skills, including the truED badge program at Champlain College Online, and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.


Going Back to School for Cybersecurity

I enrolled in the badge program at Champlain, focusing on building my cybersecurity skills. I found I really liked the subject, so I stayed on after completing the badge program and got an undergraduate cybersecurity certificate. By then I was in a groove with my education and was really enjoying the program, so I decided to stick with it and finally get my bachelor's degree. I worked closely with my advisor, Janet, to figure out a path that would allow me to complete my degree as quickly as possible. I was able to use the credits I earned through my badge and certificate programs, in addition to credits earned in previous education experiences, to help me earn a bachelor's degree in Integrated Studies.

How I Succeeded as an Online Student

I had tried going back to school before and it didn't work for me. I was attending a local community college, and the time commitment was hard, especially when taking the commute into consideration. I found that going to school online was so much more flexible: you can make it work in the hours you have. 

Although I had a full-time job to work around, I was able to find a school routine that worked for me - I did most of my coursework at night, after dinner (and listened to a lot of classical music while doing it). It was hard to keep going for three years, especially when I was taking two classes at a time.

I learned I had to start the week off right: it was important to get things done early so I'd have enough time on the weekends to finish bigger assignments. You can easily find yourself overwhelmed at the end of the week, so it's important to establish a steady pace and get ahead as much as you can.

My Online College Experience at Champlain

Everyone at Champlain was supportive, and instructors were always quick to respond to my questions. I also really get to know the people in my classes - from class to class, you see a lot of the same faces, so it was easy to make those connections. By the end of the program, some of us were talking about having reunions!

I was impressed with the quality of the coursework and the instructors, as well as the online virtualization labs and tools we had. I liked that I could actually do hands-on work, not just read about it. I felt that Champlain gave me the tool set I needed to be successful - the school is committed to online learning and it shows.

I'd tell someone considering Champlain for their online degree to pick a subject area that will drive them, something that they're passionate about. It's hard work,  so you need to be motivated. Take the 15-hour commitment seriously, and have the self-discipline to put the time into it.

Motivating Myself to Finish My Degree

It feels good to finally have finished my degree. My kids were a motivator in helping me persist through the three years it took me to complete my coursework, and I feel like I've set a good example for them - I've showed them that you can go back to school and reach your goals at any age.

Obtaining my degree has also had a number of benefits in my professional life. I have less tolerance for wasting time, because during school it was so important to be efficient. I carried that new sense of urgency into my job and really stepped up my game at work.

I feel that I'm a better problem-solver and more confident. I've realized I can do things I didn't think I could do. Companies are reducing everywhere, and in my case, changing their expectations of their employees, and I now have the confidence that I'm both valuable in my current organization and competitive both in the job market.

Mike Iapalucci graduated from Champlain College Online in 2016 with a B.S. in Integrated Studies.

About the Author

Sonya Krakoff

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Sonya Krakoff is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Champlain College Online, where she is the voice behind the CCO blog and helps tell the school's story across multiple digital platforms. Sonya has extensive experience in writing, content marketing, and editing for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations, and holds a bachelor's degree in English (with a focus on creative writing) from St. Lawrence University.

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