Jason Ennis wanted to build his credibility. His career arc led him to pursue a degree that would help solidify his leadership skills.
"I earned this degree to add more business and leadership focus to my technical background. I would like to be seen as someone that is well rounded in business and technology leadership," said Ennis, an enterprise architecture manager at MMG Insurance in Presque Isle, Maine.
Early in 2018, Ennis decided to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a dual concentration in Management & Leadership and Project Management online at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI) after attending a lunch-and-learn at his company. He graduated in December 2019.
UMPI's YourPace online degree programs allow students to demonstrate competencies and advance through coursework rather than follow a set schedule of completion.
"Given the demands of my job and family life, there's no way I could have taken a traditional course load," he said. "Quite honestly, I doubt I would ever have gotten a degree if the YourPace program wasn't available in the way that the program is structured."
If Ennis showed competency in a subject, he could move forward. And if he needed more time to master the material, he could go at a slower pace.
"It really comes down to the competency-based structure," Ennis said. "I could slow down as much as I need to if I expect a lot of work, travel or whatever. I'd only take two courses in an eight-week period, but then I could take on more if things went better than expected."
Ennis completed the program in just under two years. This impressive feat could not have happened without the structure of YourPace.
With UMPI's YourPace online degree programs, working professionals like Ennis can zip through familiar material and spend more time on new material. This keeps them from having to burn time "learning" skills they already use on a daily basis.
Ennis was able to earn the dual-concentration bachelor's degree in such a short period of time because he could add credits from UMPI's Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) of his education and credentials to those he previously earned at Northern Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Augusta.
"My advice would be to dig up anything you can and take any of the training or learning experiences that you have at work even while you're in the program and see if it can be applied for credit," he said. "I dug up current and past certifications that I've earned in the areas of project management and leadership. That coupled with a narrative earned me credits by proving that I've already learned what the course material was going to teach me."
Previous work experience showing college-level competency enabled Ennis to add even more credits.
"I do speaking engagements on panels at conferences, and I was able to use that for communication courses," he said. "I'm actually doing these things in front of a live audience as opposed to standing in front of a class. That shows a lot more practical mastery of the skill set than a traditional student might get out of the program."
While Ennis was able to apply a lot of his professional experience toward his college degree, he still saw the need for formal learning to add skills he was missing.
Getting Down to Business
As he wrapped up his coursework in the online program, Ennis identified skills he knew he could leverage after graduation.
"Operations Management [BUS 415] was pretty challenging and fun," he said of one his final courses. "It's more business-oriented versus quantitative literacy and other math-based classes."
Understanding numbers is a big part of leading in the business world, but for Ennis, developing people skills has taken precedence.
"I found that the courses that focus more on people and leadership are more in line with what I want to learn," he said. "I was learning something new that I could actually apply at work."
The online Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration program introduced and reinforced key business concepts, with the new insights prompting him to initiate changes within his organization.
"I was taught how to use a balanced scorecard for measuring success organizationally," he said. "The coursework actually gave me a chance to learn about it in more detail."
Although Ennis prefers classroom learning, he took advantage of the online format to simultaneously maintain his job and devote attention to his supportive family — his wife, Sarah, and children, Keegan (22), Hannah (21), Cade (14) and Payton (7).
"I like being able to interact face to face with other people and the teacher to ask questions," he said. "But in the end, for me and where I am in my life, this was the only way it was going to work. It's been a great learning experience."
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