It has sort of gotten lost in the shuffle of Anna June's illness, but we have a big announcement to make to the world.
On Tuesday, Ben completed his Master's of Science in Information Security and Assurance, or MSISA, from Western Governors University.
We are so proud of all his hard work. Ben accomplished this in the span of one year, which was economical, but extremely difficult. WGU features online competency-based learning, where the students can demonstrate competency in the areas of learning and earn credit. In other words, they take one class at a time, and when they are ready and demonstrate competency in that class - whether it is by taking a test or turning in a project - they are done and they go on to the next class.
This program was not always easy. Ben aced the information security courses and appreciated that some of the classes used national (or international) certification exams as the basis for passing some classes - so he became certified in areas that he had not yet been, like "ethical hacking". The assurance course work was more like business school, and it was harder for him since it wasn't much in his experience. But he learned it quickly. I already knew this, but he's one of the best test takers I have ever met.
Through this process, I have blogged very little about Ben's graduate school experience. Mostly, because it is not my story to tell, but partially, I didn't want to add any pressure to him. I have a few readers who are not related to us and, even though I personally think that they could be a cheering section, I didn't want him to feel that they were a jeering section if he wasn't making progress at a certain level. Also, back in about 2010, he started graduate school for history, and it just wasn't a good fit at the time. We learned a lot of lessons back then.
Here is what I learned through watching the process this time around -
1. Graduate school is tough, no matter where you go, and no matter what area of study.
2. Going to graduate school while working a full time job is even tougher.
3. Going to graduate school while working a full time job and having a child is even tougher. I have to give Ben a lot of credit in this area. He has always been there when I needed him to be, even when he had studying to do (which was always, when you do a multi-year program in one year). He took AJ to doctor visits, he came to school programs, he came on vacations and outings with us, he fed AJ, bathed her, read with her, and played with her.
4. Staying up late enough to get anything done in graduate school is really, really hard. See above. Sometimes my job in the supporting role was to sit beside him at the table to let him know he was not alone. Sometimes I fell asleep doing my job, such as when he was rehearsing his final presentation for the second time and my eyes just would not stay open. Imagine how he felt, since he had to research and write a 70-page paper and then present it.
5. When you are financing your education on your own, you may have more of a stake in the outcome. That is, you don't want to "waste" your tuition, so you may want to follow through.
6. Master's degrees usually have career trajectories attached to them. We will see what the future brings in this area for us.
7. Online learning is convenient, but it requires a lot of discipline.
8. Online learning is widely varied in quality. Do your homework if you are interested. WGU, although you may have never heard of it, is a real university with a non-profit status, even though it doesn't really have a brick-and-mortar campus. I can't say that for many for-profit institutions who are ahead of the curve in technology related to, say, state universities, but lack the quality and repuatation.
9. Ben has a lot of people in his corner. On the day he completed his final presentation, he walked out of the private conference room he reserved at work and raised his hands in victory, saying "I'm done!" Later that afternoon, many of his co-workers gathered to celebrate - a bottle of bubbly and some Twinkies/Little Debbie cakes and ice cream. A good time was had by all. Meanwhile, AJ took my suggestion of a banner and ran with it, saying "congratulations" had too many letters, but "Yay Dad!" was do-able. She made it herself. Afterwards, I posted a photo on my facebook page - it got over 100 "likes".
10. Sometimes, done is better than perfect. You can revise and revise and revise, but after a certain point, there are diminishing returns. There was a deadline, in the end. If it hadn't been met, we would have had to pay for another half semester, so the financial incentive to finish was strong.
When you look at it through the lens of setting an example, I will say that this also taught AJ several lessons. She learned that it is good to do hard things. She learned that it is important to get an education, even at a higher level. She learned that her dad is very smart, a good test-taker, and a really good writer. She got so excited every time he finished a class or met another milestone, especially at the end. While she was home with me on a sick day, I got the call that he was finished - I told her he had completed and passed his presentation, and she was grinning from ear to ear. Partly, I think it was because she knew she'd be able to spend more time with her dad, but I also think it was because she actually got it - the goal was achieved and the work was done. A year is a long time to a kid.
Most of all, she learned not to give up.
It has slowly sunk in this week, as we've gotten the wrap-up emails, including the one that said "The diploma is in the mail." Holy cow. It's really done.
We are so very proud. Sometime in the near future, we will all celebrate appropriately. Until then, I present Shenandoah R. Gallitz, MSISA.
21 hours ago