Cathy Zornes, a successful information technology consultant based in the greater Minneapolis area, never completed her bachelor’s degree.
“I’m a very experienced professional who simply didn’t have the opportunity to complete a bachelor’s degree in my twenties. I’m in my late 50s and have enjoyed a long career as a consultant. I really don’t ‘have’ to earn my degree,” says Cathy. “But I place a high value on knowing the latest technology, delivering the best service, and understanding the business trends. So for me, earning a bachelor’s degree is one more way I can add great value to my clients.”
“Everything I’ve Learned Applies to My Work”
Cathy had her eye on UW Flexible Option from the time the competency-based degree program opened in 2014. She applied that fall to the Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Technology through UW-Milwaukee and began in March of 2015.
“I could not have picked a more perfect curriculum to fit my needs. I deal with software, design of systems, websites, and electronic records, so really everything I’ve learned applies to my work. There are a few things that are very new, such as data analytics, and it’s been such a bonus to bring this insight to my clients.”
She was able to transfer credits from her associate degree in mass communications from St. Louis College along with a handful of credits from Kaplan University, leaving her with 15 competency sets (which are similar to courses) to complete. With the UW Flexible Option, instead of passing a course, students demonstrate skills and knowledge to pass a competency set. In the Information Science and Technology curriculum, many of the competency sets are grouped around core skills and knowledge in information science, information architecture, information organization, storage and retrieval, and applications of the Internet.
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Balancing Client Needs with Her Education Goal
As a well-established legal technology consultant, Cathy has clients all over the country. She especially enjoys her travels to Chicago and New York City, when she can occasionally squeeze in time for a Broadway show.
“One of the benefits of UW Flexible Option is that I can study wherever I am. When I travel, I study in my hotel room at night. When I’m not traveling, I study on the weekends and at night after work.”
In her consulting role, Cathy assists clients with system implementations, needs assessments, workflow and process improvements, and coaches users through change management.
“Because I’m a consultant and I’m involved in a variety of technology projects, I’m able to apply everything I’m learning through the IST program.”
Cathy’s travel schedule for client engagements can be highly unpredictable. Very early into her UW Flexible Option experience, her project responsibilities put pressure on Cathy’s study schedule. With her intense work week and changing travel plans, Cathy decided to take a step back and reconsider her graduation date. Her original goal was to take two competency sets per each 3-month subscription period. With her work as her priority, she chose to occasionally reduce her academic workload to only one competency set per subscription period.
“With UW Flexible Option, I can move ahead at my own pace and take a lighter load when I need to. I would have never been able to finish in a traditional degree program because of the need to control my schedule.”
Her graduation goal is February 2018.
Often with the UW Flexible Option, a student’s career history influences their pace. In Cathy’s case, her broad experience in information technology consulting means some competency sets come easily to her. She’s actively involved with systems analysis and project management for her clients so she was able to progress more quickly through several competency sets related to these subjects.
With her graduation in sight, Cathy is now completing her capstone. This competency set is a culmination of everything one has learned in the program. Students analyze, create and present an information retrieval system project for an organization.
“As I have fewer client projects this time of year, I plan to devote most of December and even part of January to my capstone, and I think I will need it.”
As she winds down her studies, Cathy is excited about the future and eager to share news of her degree with her clients.
“I work with professionals who have advanced degrees and this just gives me credibility. I have a lot of experience already but the degree is a huge help. It’s definitely been a bucket list item of mine. I wish I had earned it years ago.”
Cathy’s advice for students considering the UW Flexible Option?
“Work closely with your Academic Success Coach to create an effective learning plan, one that supports the capstone you ultimately choose.”