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Alumnus’ Career Flies High Through Education and Support From University of Denver 

Steve Nelson shares how his experiences at University College and DU’s career services helped him pivot industries and take off to new horizons after graduation.

By Danielle DeGroot, University College Writer

The University College at the University of Denver (DU) constantly strives to offer world-class education through hands-on, transformative experiences for students. University College Alumni Steve Nelson, Alaska Airlines Senior DEI Specialist for regional airline Horizon Air and project manager for Accessibility/Disability Inclusion took the time to share how his experience at at DU helped him land a rewarding job in his chosen industry. Nelson graduated in 2020 with a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership with a focus on Project Management. 

What inspired you to take this program, and why did you choose the University of Denver? 

I was interested in a program that looked at a variety of business and leadership functions like time and change management, finance, ethics, and leadership fundamentals. The Organizational Leadership program at University College had all these elements, and I learned that many professors are professionals in the field who can share real-world and current examples. DU’s online programs receive high national ratings, adding credibility to the degree. Lastly, I knew University College’s programs are designed for professionals who are balancing work and school. 

During your time as a student, what did you find most challenging? What did you find most rewarding?  

I think the most challenging aspect for me were the group projects. Group projects are always a challenge, but that challenge is magnified a bit when everyone lives in a different place. You learn a lot about delegation, follow-through, and time management through these projects. The most rewarding aspect was connecting with faculty, staff, and my fellow students. I learned how a problem was tackled in different types of organizations and companies, which I felt was far more valuable than learning a single theory or lesson in a textbook.  

How did you balance life and student work while pursuing your degree?  

It was definitely tough. I basically told myself that weekends were my time. This didn’t always work, so I also took the time to meditate or listen to music. I also was careful to have a special place for schoolwork so that it was kept separate from my personal life. 

How is this program experience benefiting you now in your current position?   

I have used just about every lesson I learned in my program. I am constantly working with executives and other management to drive change initiatives. I manage several projects across the company, I have finances to consider, and have even performed risk assessments. In the next several weeks, I will be viewing several RFP (request for proposal) presentations- something I studied and practiced in my Project Management classes. I am amazed at just how much value this degree has added to my knowledge banks to make me successful in my role. 
Do you have any advice to get the most out of graduate education for people considering pursuing a graduate degree? 

Take your electives seriously. Electives are your chance to learn even more skills that can transfer. I chose to take change management electives because I wanted to learn more about topics such as Environmental Scanning, something I have already used in my job! Save your notes and be serious about your work. Be intentional and thorough in all your assignments. The more you actually learn, and retain, from your classes- the more likely you are to be able to truly utilize your degree in the future.  

How did Career Services help you transition from the classroom to the career you have now?  

The first and biggest assistance Career Services provided was helping me redesign my resume. I worked for Walt Disney World for my entire professional career. My resume made perfect sense when applying for promotions at Disney, but when looking at other organizations, I needed to reword my resume in a way that would speak to them. I attended virtual learning opportunities hosted by Career Services, including one focused on enhancing your LinkedIn profile. I also attended a session on how to negotiate pay. This was truly helpful as I was able to negotiate a significant increase in my salary offer for my new job. 

Do you have any other feedback or information you would like to share?  

Just because you are an online student doesn’t mean you can’t have the full experience! Really connect with your classmates, purchase your DU swag, and TRAVEL to Denver for commencement! You’ll be so glad you did, and you will find the motivation to complete your program and advance your career! Keep in touch with your professors because they will continue to be a guide to you as you navigate the future. And always stay proud to say you are a DU Alumni! 

Nelson is a wonderful example of a professional and member of the DU community who utilized his learning experience to boost his career to exactly where he wanted it to be. Connect with a University College advisor to learn more about graduate programs, Career Center services, and professional and continuing education opportunities offered through DU and University College.  

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