Returning to College to Earn a Degree (July 25, 2010)

Posted: July 25, 2010 by Mike Hubbartt in Academia
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by Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Did you know that King Richard the Lionheart did not speak English, that he was only in England soil for 1.5 yrs or the 10 yrs he rules, and he developed one of the best defensive tactics while marching his men from Acre to Jerusalem? I learned that from a book on King Richard, which I read for a report in a Medieval Crusades class I took in the Fall of 2007.

Why did I return to college? The poor economy and bad job market have forced many people to re-evaluate their career options and opt to return to college to earn a new or different degree to make a decent living. I returned to school in 2007, not because the economy, but because I felt the job market was changing into one that would soon require a degree just to be able to apply for a job in technology. Based on what I’ve seen the past year, I believe I made the right choice.

In June of 2007 I enrolled in Augsburg College’s Weekend College (WEC) program, with a declared major of Computer Science (CSC).  Even though I had over 20 years of experience in the IT industry, I was not allowed to skip any of the required classes, so I started with the Intro to Computer Science class (CSC160) that Fall, which was taught by Dr. Kern Sutherland. Dr. Sutherland was a gem. A professor that cared about teaching, not about being the teacher, and her lectures were interesting and thought-provoking. I took the next class in the sequesnce (CSC170 – OO Programming) with Dr. Sutherland and learned a lot, even though most of the concepts were quite familiar to me. The third quarter Dr. Sutherland left school – she retired – so I took the Intro to Networking class taught by Dr. Shana Watters and Data Structures taught by Dr. Larry Crockett – both were interesting, but still a review of familiar topics, and I always found something of interest in the lectures and textbooks for the classes.

My second year (2008-2009) was a lot more challenging. I had Algorithms and Database Design (both taught by Dr. Watters –  a very passionate and enthusiastic teacher that truly cares that her students learn) in the fall, Assembly Language (taught by Dr. Erik Steinmetz – a top notch teacher that knows how to make complicated problems easy to understand) in the Winter, and Logic (taught by Dr. Charley Sheaffer – as compassionate and understanding a person as anyone I’ve met) in the Spring. My last year (2009-2010) CSC classes were Database Architecture (taught by Dr. Watters) in the Fall, Compilers I (taught by Dr. Sheaffer) in the Winter, and Compilers 2 (taught by Dr. Sheaffer) in the Spring of 2010.

Starting with my Data Structures class, I made it a point to use the Eclipse IDE for all classes where we wrote code, since I knew it was widely used by developers in the business arena. Eclipse was powerful – it made it so much easier to find and fix minor bugs in my code – and the UI is very intuitive. I became the unofficial advocate for Eclipse on campus, demonstrating it to fellow students and to interested Professors. To my great pleasure Dr. Sheaffer used it and required the other students in his Compilers classes to use Eclipse for their class project, and I was told that Dr. Watters intends to require her Data Structures students to use it next year when she teaches that class.

The CSC classes were useful, but, as you might guess, the liberal arts requirements were more of a challenge as they took time away from the programming classes. I took three math classes (ending with Discrete), two fine arts classes (History of Jazz – most excellent, and Web Design – a good review of material I knew), but the most daunting classes I took outside of CSC were French 1 and 2. I understand that linguists and psychologists say that the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a foreign language. I’m not just out of high school, so I knew this could be my biggest challenge to getting my degree. I decided to take French (not Farsi nor Norwegian) and took them in the Winter and Spring quarters of 2010 in a class taught by Dr. Issac Joslin. It was tough. As tough as I thought it would be. We met once a week for 3 – 4 hrs per day and we had a lot of material to get through for the course. I’d say 1/2 of the class had 0 exposure to French and 1/2 the class was well-versed in the language. Such a mix made it a difficult class to teach as well as attend, but the subject was interesting enough to make the effort worthwhile. I graduated over a month ago but still practice French when I email my wife. I hope to be able to retain enough to make a trip to Paris next year and be able to communicate with the people we meet on our vacation.

I graduated this Spring – our last class met June 26th and the graduation ceremony was June 27th at the Augsburg campus. We were only allows 5 tickets per student for guests, so my wife, my brother Pat, mother-in-law Ardy, and friends Jim Kunkel and Scott Lackey came to watch me receive my diploma. Afterwords we had an open house to share the joy of the day and our guests were my brother and sister-in-law and two of their grandsons (Derick and Kyle), Ardy, and our friends Dr. Jim Kunkel (from Texas) and Scott and Dennis and Meliisa Kleibur and their lovely daughters, my adopted mother and father, good friends Pam and Larry Ellinghuysen, and good neighrs Stu and Maria Elena Nankin and Barb Salem. We ate well. My brother grilled steaks (using Barb’s grill), and I made Perlou Wraps and corn for lunch, with BBQ ribs for supper. We ate most but not all of the food and have been grazing on frozen leftover ribs the past 4 weeks, but the last ones will be gone by tomorrow. C’est la vie.

Was it easy to return to college? Not a bit. Many of my classmates said they’d been in school for 6-8 years, which was too long for me. I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner, so i pushed through in 3 years. I did well enough that I decided to go on to graduate school, so I am enrolled int he GPS program at the University of St. Thomas. I know this will be as challenging, if not more, than my undergrad degree, but I will take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as possible in every class I take. School is work, and there are good and bad subjects/teachers/textbooks/classmates, but the point is that you are there to learn, regardless of the distractions. I look back with fondness on my time at Augsburg – I met a lot of good people and good teachers, and I learned a lot.

Would I recommend that others return to college? Yes. It was absolutely worth it, even though I gave up a lot of time watching TV or relaxing with a book since I needed to study, I did something that can’t be taken away. I earned my college degree. I am proud I was able to accomplish this goal and hope that others take the step to make themselves more marketable by going back to school. It isn’t easy, but the things you learn will stay with you forever.

I can promise you will work very hard to get a degree, but I can also promise you will be thrilled when you take that graduation walk to the auditorium to receive a diploma. And the next time someone asks  “are you a college grad?” you can say with a smile “Yes I am.”

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