Champlain College Online Student Stories: Jiri

Jiri Cruz graduated from Champlain College in 2018, with a Master's in Executive Leadership.

I had been wanting to go back to school for a very long time, and had to put it off for a variety of reasons. Once I saw the announcement for Champlain's truED program come through via my employer - the federal government - I jumped on it right away. Champlain College Online's relationship with my employer created a system that made it so easy to fill out the application and do everything I needed to do to apply - and I could even do it all at work. My employer was very supportive of me going back to school overall, and they even helped pay for a couple of classes.

I had been wanting to move up within my organization and take a management position, so I thought that Champlain's master's in Executive Leadership program would be a great fit for my goals. The degree has helped me immensely, in so many ways - I was able to apply what I've learned to my work in different situations, and it's helped me shine. As soon as I finished the program, I was promoted! I was also asked to become an instructor within my organization.

Balancing my schoolwork with the rest of my work and life commitments was very difficult. I work full-time, and that time I had a very demanding job. I would just stay up really late at night doing my coursework!
I had attempted to go back to school and get my advanced degree before, but there was always something preventing me from doing so - family and finances were the two major factors that really got in the way. This time around, those factors weren't an issue: the truED program made the degree affordable, and my children were grown, which made it easier for me to find the time. Not having those two obstacles in my way motivated me to just go full steam ahead and complete the degree this time around.

Going back to school was challenging, since I'd been out of school for so long. It had been over fifteen years, so coming back into the classroom setting was difficult. There were times I was frustrated and stressed out, because my job was so demanding, I was traveling a lot for work, and I thought, "maybe this isn't the right time for school." But I talked to my advisor and the dean of the college, and they told me "you need to do this, and you need to do it now." And I did - I stuck with it, and I'm happy I did.

Online learning was completely new to me. I was accustomed to being in a physical classroom with a professor and a chalkboard, so it was intimidating at first. I feel that Champlain's technology was user-friendly, and if there was something I didn't know how to do or couldn't find, I could always reach out to the professor and get their help.

The online format was really useful, because I was traveling a lot during the entire year I was in the program. I always was doing homework at the airport, on the plane, at the hotel - everywhere I went, I was doing homework! The technology allowed me to do that and still keep up with my classes - if I were attending a brick-and-mortar school, I would have never been able to do it.

I really liked that the professors and your advisor were always available. Technology now makes it easier to stay in touch with people, so even though we're miles apart - they're in Vermont, and I'm all the way down in Washington, D.C - they were always accessible, and interaction with them was easy. I could always just shoot them an email, and they would always respond right away. I didn't feel like I had to make an appointment, or wait until the next day for the response - they were always there. Throughout the whole program, if I ever had a question or concern or an issue, I always felt comfortable reaching out - everyone was very responsive. I remember I even was able to set up a time to talk to the dean of the college in the evening, and I was so happy that they were willing to accomodate my schedule.

I also felt that Champlain did a good job of creating an environment that really felt like a classroom even though it was online, and I don't think that's an easy thing to do. I could collaborate with other people like I would in a regular classroom, doing projects with them and having discussions, and I liked how Champlain did that. There was one individual in particular in my cohort who I just clicked with. We actually worked for the same agency, but in different departments and different states - she's in California - and there were a lot of similarities in the work we were doing. We were able to support each other throughout the whole program. When we were stressed out or having a tough time, we could always reach out to each other - texting, calling, encouraging each other, just sending a smiley face because we knew we were working on a big project. So it was really nice to have a way to build those relationships that could last the entire program.

I think that what makes Champlain unique is that they build a program that you can be successful in from a distance. It felt comfortable for me even though I had been out of school for a long time, and I was accustomed to a more traditional way of learning.

As a result of completing the program, I feel that now I'm equipped to advance in my career. I have the tools, I have the skills, I have what I've learned in this program, and all of that will help me be successful in my new position.

To anyone considering a degree at Champlain, I would say do it. Just do it, don't even think too much about it. It's not as hard as you think, so you shouldn't let fear get in the way, even if it's something you're not used to. I wasn't used to it, and I still did it, and I was able to figure it out - and if I could do it, you can do it too.