More Than a Degree: MBA Builds a Family

By Tyler McNiven
WGU MBA Graduate

While my journey is unique, it contains principles common to both current students and graduates. An unknown author once said, “Success requires sacrifice. The first step to a good plan is deciding what you are willing to give up.” We all made such decisions when we began our career journeys, and as we move forward, we reap the rewards of sacrifice we, and many close to us, made.

The educational journey to my master’s degree began nine years ago in the fall of 2006. I was taking classes to prepare for graduate school when I met Lisa, a former acquaintance from my undergraduate music studies. We began dating, and when I expressed my desire to her father to marry her, his one request was that I support Lisa in her plans to obtain her doctorate degree. I agreed, and we were married in June of 2007.

June 2007 was a good month for an additional reason: It was when I obtained full-time employment. But my career opportunity also changed Lisa’s doctoral plans. Instead of completing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree, she completed a doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration. Lisa sacrificed to stay with me, and I put my master's degree on hold to keep my promise to her father and to maintain balance in our lives.

As we pursued this course, we also desired to start our family. Months turned into years as we faced the challenges of infertility together. Lisa diligently remained on course with her doctoral studies amid many tests and surgeries. She obtained her doctoral degree in December of 2012. In November of 2013, we were organized again financially to support my master’s degree, and I had an official start date with WGU of January 1, 2014. About this same time, we learned that our chances for biological children were zero, even through IVF. So January of 2014 brought two major New Year's resolutions. I was starting my MBA, and Lisa and I began our journey to adoption.

WGU was a perfect fit to help me reach my goals. Since I would continue to work full time, I planned to complete my degree within two years. The flexibility of the program allowed me to complete my coursework around my work schedule. As a production manager and audio engineer for the department of music at a four-year university, I periodically travel with and support touring ensembles. One such time was when I supported a two-week music tour during my first term. The support from my mentor, TJ, helped in each case to either complete a task or a course prior to my need to set aside my schoolwork.

Lisa and I did not know when I enrolled how important the flexibility and structure of WGU would be as we pursued our desires for a family. We were matched with a birth family in April of 2014, but the birth mother had a miscarriage in June. We were matched again in September, and that same month the original birth family contacted us to let us know they were again expecting and asked if we would be the adoptive parents. The chance to adopt two newborns four months apart is rare, and we knew it was a special opportunity. We also knew we were financially unprepared for such costs.

Our solution was to launch a benefit concert and online fundraising campaign.

My father, Kevin McNiven, is a western music artist, and Lisa and I occasionally perform with him. The concert was held locally, and anyone who could not attend but wanted to support could contribute the cost of tickets, or any other amount, via GoFundMe. We selected January 10, 2015, as the concert date, and while I continued my studies I also produced and managed an e-commerce website, campaign video, and marketing materials. The skills I obtained from my e-business course were immediately applicable and valuable during this period. The concert and campaign were a success, and we were able to raise enough money to make both adoptions work.

In 2015, we traveled in February and June to pick up our boys, Isaac and Hunter. Each trip lasted several weeks and the structure of WGU allowed me to continue making progress on my degree, as well as set aside my schoolwork as needed. My last term began with the capstone course, a full-time job, additions to our family, and a wife who was on cloud nine. Flexibility in my studies was more important than ever, and the structure of WGU helped me reach my goal and finally complete my master’s degree journey.

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