U.S. marines train at the “toughest schools in the world” to become the best in their respective specialties. U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Matt Rose trained in communications at military installations from Minneapolis, Minn. to the Horn of Africa. Combat operations rely heavily upon the quality of data sharing and communications. Matt was responsible for the installation and operation of communication equipment for his unit, which entailed building the physical infrastructure, burying cable, setting up switches, servers, trunks, hardware, and radio contact.
Once out of the Marine Corps, Matt wanted to leverage his military training to more quickly earn a bachelor’s degree. That’s why he chose to earn his Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Technology online from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee through the UW Flexible Option. The UW Flexible Option is especially designed for students who want their previous education and work experience to help them advance toward degrees or certificates, saving time and money.
Veteran’s Education Benefits Help Fund His Degree
Matt applied the GI Bill to help fund his education and began earning his degree in September 2015. He chose a pace that reflects his other priorities in life. Matt continues to serve in the military, this time as an Air Force Reserves E5 supervisor who is often deployed throughout the United States. He works as an Industrial Controls Technician in Tomah, Wis. His wife is also earning a degree and together, they are busy raising four kids ages seven to 17.
Previously, Matt attended Winona State University. Eighteen of these credits transferred in to UW-Milwaukee. He also earned 15 credits from his service in the military, leaving Matt with about 80 college credits to complete. His original plan was to graduate in December 2017.
“This pace gives me a break so I’m not shortchanging my career, my family, or my education goals,” said Matt.
The UW Flexible Option, unlike traditional degree programs, is competency-based. Instead of awarding credits based on how much time students spend learning, this model awards credits based on whether students can prove they have mastered competencies—the skills, abilities, and knowledge required in an area of study. The Information Science and Technology degree consists of general education, information science and technology and general elective competency sets.
By taking three competency sets per enrollment period, equivalent to a “part-time” course load for a traditional college student, Matt would meet his target graduation goal. He began with his general education competency sets, such as science, math, and English.
He made great progress, and was soon ready to start his IST competency sets. The core competency sets in the information science and technology degree encompass the concepts and tools of information science, information architecture, and information technology.
“Even though my Marine Corps experience was ten years ago, I was still able to apply some of what I learned to knock out a couple of IST competency sets in just a few weeks, including the programming and database competency sets. I really enjoyed the web design and web development competency sets. I had been exposed to some of that during my military training too, so I moved pretty quickly through this content.”
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Overcoming the First Challenge
Due to some big life changes, Matt needed to take a break from the IST program. In the midst of selling his home and moving to a new one, his job was eliminated. Matt was dealing with home inspectors and mortgage banks, negotiating with realtors, finding new schools for his four children, and searching for a job to help support a family of six.
To take a break between subscription periods, Matt contacted his Academic Success Coach (ASC). From Day One in the program, a student’s first point of contact is the ASC. Matt’s success coach recognized his unique needs and advised him to complete a deferral form and re-enroll whenever he was ready. With the UW Flexible Option, students aren’t tied to traditional semesters. So the month after he found a new job and new home, Matt re-enrolled.
“Life happens. With hiccups, my graduation goal has changed. I’m looking at spring 2018 as an end date.”
Matt became an IT support technician for a nearby sand mine. The work environment is intense, with sophisticated equipment and processing technology in use round the clock. Everything is fully automated, and each minute that a piece of equipment is down can cost the company millions of dollars. Matt supports 30 to 50 users with server side maintenance, network server administration, and creation of wireless bridges to create temporary access for remote area users based in trailers, along with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Internet connection, and switches.
“In one day, I can do any number of things. I might troubleshoot a PLC panel or fix an IP camera outdoors and then give office staff access to software programs or develop a SharePoint for new users, so there’s a great deal of variety.”
The Next Test in Resilience
Within two months, Matt earned a promotion to industrial controls technician at the processing plant. He credits both the pursuit of his bachelor’s degree in IST along with his work experience for this promotion. His new position required a lot of training, leading to his second break in the UW Flexible Option.
“My transition to industrial programming and network administration took several weeks. Not only did I need to know IT but I also had to understand electrical engineering and how motors work and how the plant moves tons of freight, along with learning the manufacturing design and operation involving power and gas and water and timing control down to milliseconds. It’s incredibly complex.”
Once he completed the transition to his new role, Matt was able to re-enroll in the UW Flexible Option, fulfilling a promise he made to himself. No matter what happens, Matt says he will continue to pursue his degree. Upon graduation, he will continue his education. Matt plans to apply his veteran’s benefits toward earning his master’s degree in data science.
Matt’s advice for others who are interested in the UW Flexible Option?
“Stay focused, set up a goal, and work toward it every day.”