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July 27, 2022

ElevatED (S2:Ep4) Words of Wisdom: How to Leverage Your Courses for Professional Wins

What inspires an IT professional with over 30 years of industry experience to take on the challenge of graduate school? What encourages someone who has worked all over the globe in his field to seek out more knowledge in an industry he already leads in?

In the latest episode of the ElevatED Podcast, we talk to Peter Lund, who even with a successful career under his belt, chose to apply his real-world experience toward a master’s degree in Information and Communications Technology at University College.  

“I had always been told when you graduate with your bachelor’s to wait a while before you go to get your master’s, so you have real world experience to apply to your studies,” Peter said, adding that’s exactly what he did for multiple decades. “I’ve been traveling around the world doing quite a bit of work. But I got to a point where I was comfortable knowing my job but had a nagging feeling in the back of my head that says ‘you know you can do this better.’”

For Peter, who currently serves as network infrastructure manager at Leidos, doing his work better meant re-entering the academic world and pursuing a master’s degree to build on what he knew and push himself to new heights in the IT industry.

“That’s what really motivated me. I thought I was too comfortable and needed to stretch myself. I needed to find out what it is that I was missing and really refine what I already knew and fill in the gaps.”

Blending Experience and Education

There is no doubt that Peter brought a wealth of experience with him to his master’s degree journey, which he says actually set him up perfectly to really take a deep dive into skills he already had. Importantly, he had to both be aware of where his comfort zone was, what his preconceived notions were, and focus on those areas that he wanted to refine with an open mind.

“I’m at a point that I’m a little more focused. I’m specifically trying to refine what I already know and add to that. What I have is a lot of experience, which means that I also have a lot of preconceived notions” he says, adding that the coursework is what helped him push past those boundaries and provide breadth. It provides different ways to approach concepts and tackle issues, as well as a chance to learn from the thoughts of classmates from all levels of experience.

“It puts it more into context and gives you some focus, and maybe the depth that I already have gets modified,” Peter said. “But, now I’m deeper in more areas, and not just deeper in one area.”

From the Classroom to the Client

University College encourages the most hands-on, real-world application of education as possible for its students, helping them get experience before they even graduate.

Peter related that he valued the ability to take classroom concepts and apply it directly to client’s needs. In this way, he has been able to be intentional and deliberate with coursework to meet the outcomes and learning that fits his career.

For example, he took a course focusing on broadband wireless networks because he had a business client that was interested in exploring providing cellular services in remote areas. In order to help the customer, Peter wanted to learn more about what it took to start and operate a private cellular infrastructure.

Throughout the course, he worked with his instructor to create a proposal that met his client’s needs. Then, he took that proposal directly to the client and presented the solution.

“They were amazed, saying ‘This is exactly what we’re looking for,’” he says of the client, adding they requested his team lead the project, submit an official funding proposal, and they would work to find the funding to make it happen.

Not only was Peter able to take his education into the real-world, it also helped him learn new concepts in a hands-on way.

“I’ve identified that if I apply something to real life, it’s no longer abstract for me. I’m not talking about some mythical business process…I’m talking about something that will happen and is happening,” Peter said, adding that his instructors have been open and welcoming of tailoring coursework to apply directly to professional life.

Tips for Adult Learners

With a few courses left before he receives his degree, Peter has learned a lot about the work/life/school balance and the best way to get the most out of a graduate program.

For those already in the industry, he touts the program as a great way to refine knowledge and advance professionally.

“If you already have some experience in the industry that you’re in and you’re trying to improve on it, this is a great way to do it,” he said. “The university of college has a lot to offer in that area. There’s a wide breadth of courses to choose from that would fit. Picking something that is of interest to you that you can leverage has worked very well for me.”

For those that don’t have much industry experience and are figuring out where their career will take them, Peter suggests starting with the basic courses, then concentration course, and then choose electives last once you have pinned down what you want to focus on and how they can apply in the professional world.

And always keep your goals in mind and be flexible.

“My original goal still stands which is to give myself that broader base of knowledge and refine what it is that I’m trying to do,” he said, adding that he took courses he wasn’t initially planning on due to class availability and his own schedule, but they ended up being extremely helpful in his job.

“A really good example of that is a disaster recovery and business continuity course. I wasn’t originally planning on taking that course, but I learned a ton. And, in my role I’m exposed to a large number of information security requirements, so having that in there wasn’t a part of my plan, but that knowledge became extremely useful,” he said. “I’m able to better integrate and engage with the members of my information security team, and I understand why they’re coming at me with questions and why they’re relevant.”

To hear more about Peter’s experiences in his graduate degree journey, listen to the full interview on the ElevatED Podcast below.

Catch up with the entire ElevatED Podcast.

The ElevatED podcast is a space for conversations around the intersection of industry and higher education for adult learners. Brought to you by the University of Denver’s college of continuing and professional studies, University College.

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