School’s Out For The Kids, In For Me

Ah, those lazy, hazy days of summer are finally here… for my kids. For me? Not so much. At least, not yet.

As Buddy’s final days of second grade and Sassarass’ final days of day care wound down, I was in full wind-up mode. Because I decided a few months ago to go back to school. Yes siree, I am once again a college student. Or, more actually, a graduate student.

I’ve always wanted a Master’s Degree, but I chose to go straight into the work force when I earned by Bachelor’s because I felt a Master’s would hurt me more than help me. I’m glad I waited, because I am a much better student now.

I looked at a number of communications-related programs around the country. My criteria was something that could relate to my current position and was flexible enough that I could continue to work full-time and see my children (moms like to do that now and then). I started locally, but was quickly disappointed. Only three school carried a program that qualified: Chatham, Point Park and Duquesne. I was most excited about Chatham and was very disappointed when, literally the same day they emailed me to make an appointment, I received another email informing me that the University canceled their Communications program.

That left me with Point Park and Duquesne. Duquense’s program didn’t offer any flexibility whatsoever in their scheduling. They had some classes in the evening, but it was clear that they expected their graduate students to go to school full-time, which wasn’t a possibility for me.

The only local choice left was Point Park, but I also found their program not to be as flexible as I needed. They offered all of their graduate courses in the evenings or weekends, which was the best option in town. However, I know my life, my job responsibilities and my family responsibilities. There are too many opportunities for there to be problems, times when my husband gets stuck in traffic, someone gets sick, I’m traveling on business or I have a late or weekend work event.

Striking out locally was disheartening, because I really wanted to go to school in Pittsburgh. Instead, I expanded my search and found several good options around the country that offered fully-online courses. I nixed the ones that were solely online. I wanted a long-standing brick-and-mortar institute that had expanded to online courses.

I narrowed my options down to Kent State University and West Virginia University. Kent offered a Public Relations program and West Virginia offered an Integrated Marketing Communications program. I found them to be similar in style. Both offered several classes a term in shorter sessions – KS 7 weeks with breaks in between and WVU 9 weeks with fewer breaks. KS’s classes were required to be taken in an order, one building on another. While I liked this concept, I was concerned about problems if I needed to take a break. While I wasn’t anticipating it, with a young family, there’s always a possibility. WVU had several core courses and a number of optional courses that allowed some customization of the program. Because they didn’t need to be taken in any order, students can take a break if needed.

Today, I’m in the middle of my Intro to IMC class at WVU. So far I’m loving it. I decided to start in the summer when my schedule is more relaxed, both at work and with the kids (no homework or Cub Scouts), so I could get used to the rigor of the program. And it is rigorous. Online doesn’t mean easy. There are deadlines every week and a while lot of reading. Fortunately, I find it utterly fascinating, which is so much better than suffering through a math course (sorry math people, it’s just not my thing – that’s why we have you!).

This course’s assignment is to create an integrated marketing campaign for IKEA, which has been so very painful (read: OMG!!! IKEA!!!). My first assignment was to visit the store. Twist my arm! My friends and I jokingly call it Mecca, so it’s been so much fun working on a project for a company that I like and am familiar with. We have weekly discussions, and it’s been great to see input from my classmates. We’re a nicely diverse group, a mix of ages and locations. I’ve really enjoyed getting a good peak at their point of views, some of which are so different from mine. The single guys will look at the same commercial that this married mom does and see things that I never considered.

So far I’m doing great in the class, and the flexibility has been wonderful. I traveled this week for work, and it was no problem for me to fit my school work in. I simply turned my paper in before I left, read on the plane, and completed my discussion post in my hotel room at the end of the day. It was great knowing I wasn’t going to miss a class or be at a disadvantage.

I’m really excited to be starting this new phase! Just don’t ask me how the Mountaineers are doing in sports.

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