Overcoming the Setbacks, Burns, and Turns of Life with an Online Degree

When the important aspects of life are running smoothly – family and career, it can be intimidating to begin a new venture.

Gus, like many WGU students, has had many responsibilities on his plate throughout his academic career. His parents divorced when he was young, so he was subsequently raised by a single mother. She worked hard to provide for them, but she had a busy life and was pulled in seemingly endless directions. The two lived at grandma’s house for extra support until Gus was in the 4th grade, and despite feeling optimistic about being on their own, life on their own proved to be tough. His mom struggled with alcohol addiction and he was left to babysit his mom’s friend’s daughter while the two would stay out late.

Despite maintaining straight A’s all through school with little support, Gus had his struggles as well and dropped out of high school during his senior year to pursue what he thought was a better way of life – partying. He worked at a jiffy lube for a few years until he burned his hand on a vehicle in the freezing cold of winter, and decided it was time to earn an associate’s degree and pursue a long-term career.

His mom had put her own life back together and remarried, so when Gus was ready to get back on his own feet, she welcomed him home with open arms, understanding, and encouragement. He earned his high school diploma, with straight A’s once again, before completing an associate’s degree in computer information systems.

A bachelor’s degree was the natural next step, but life happened and Gus met his wife and started a family. He was working part-time at a community college with an eagerness to start on a career path, but wasn’t confident that full-time school would be manageable with a young family. The need to immediately provide for his family won the debate and lead to the couple moving back in with his mother to save money and get out of debt. School was out of the picture, but Gus was able to find full-time employment in the Information Technology industry working at Salt Lake City Community College.  

Gus and his wife were able to pay off their debts and were in a good place. His daughter started the first grade, and he was enjoying his job working for SLCC’s IT help desk. However, deep down he knew a bachelor’s degree would propel him further in the IT world. Working at the help desk, he didn’t think there was room to advance until his boss informed him that she would be retiring soon and if Gus wanted her job, he would need a bachelor’s degree.

The idea of spending so much time away from his family to attend a brick-and-mortar institution was not an appealing thought. WGU was a fitting solution for Gus that would allow him more time to spend with his wife and daughter, and he quickly discovered the competency-based learning model would prepare him to grow in management. He says the course material really challenged him.

“One of the aspects of WGU that I really enjoyed was being able to take pre-assessments,” he explained. “I discovered through assessment results early on that my note taking was ineffective and I wasn’t studying the material that I really needed to know and would be tested on. I became more conscious about the notes I was taking during my study time, began completing the pre-assessments, and found I was able to master the concepts a lot quicker.”

While working on his B.S. Business – Information Technology Management degree, Gus filled up the time he wasn’t spending at work and on school by joining Utah’s Parent Teacher Association with his wife, who was serving as PTA president. Naturally he became PTA president elect to support her. WGU’s flexibility made that time-commitment possible.

It seemed as though every hour of the day was filled with school and work alone, but Gus just couldn’t say no to leadership opportunities. He jumped at the chance to coach his daughters’ softball team when that opportunity arose and used that time to teach her lessons in sacrifice, perseverance, and teamwork. He also jumped at the opportunity to speak on behalf of his colleagues when they welcomed a new president to the college.

“My daughter is pretty smart and I want to show her that by taking education seriously, you put yourself in control of making dreams a reality,” Gus said. “My goal is to work in IT management because I love being a leader and working with others. I believe that if you want to help a person up, you can get them a ladder. But if you are already up on the ladder, you can give them a hand and help pull them up to greatness.”

With a long-term plan to take over his boss’s job when she retires, the completion of a bachelor’s degree and soon to be master’s degree, plus a positive attitude, makes that plan a real possibility. Gus explained job openings are usually given to internal candidates at his place of employment.

“I would love to be the Chief Information Officer at SLCC someday,” he said. “But I received a raise after completing my bachelor’s degree, and I am happy. I really enjoy my face-to-face interaction with students and solving their technology problems all day.”

The completion of a bachelor’s degree also qualified him to take on more responsibility with the Utah Higher Education Staff Association, where he now serves as Public Relations and Media Chair controlling their website, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. It appears in Gus’s case, the saying “When you start to feel uncomfortable, an opportunity for growth is just around the corner”, never held more truth.  

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