By Jane Harrigan
Introducing Where Are They Now, in which we feature alumni from the College for Online and Continuing Education. In this issue we caught up with three 2013 graduates who all have found work supporting the people who do so much to serve our country.
Angelina Casarez ’13
B.A. in Communication
Angelina Casarez ’13 beat the odds, and she wants to help other young women do the same.
Among women who had babies as teenagers, less than 2 percent finish college before age 30, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. When Casarez heard that statistic, “I told myself I’m going to be that 2 percent.” She vowed that when she finished her bachelor’s in communication online at SNHU, she would travel to New Hampshire from Illinois, and her mother and grandmother would come from Texas, to experience graduation.
Last May, they did it. Three generations of women met the SNHU advisors Casarez had known only from afar, “cried a lot” and celebrated Casarez’s becoming the first grandchild on either side of her family to earn a college degree.
Twelve years ago, when she had a son at 17, her family stood by her. But even with that support -– and even after she later married and landed a good job in San Antonio with the Department of Defense – finding the right life balance was difficult.
“For a while I almost gave up on myself,” she says.
“I lost my confidence.”
Two community colleges and two online universities couldn’t motivate her to finish her degree. SNHU did – with an added push when she moved to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, in a program that requires a bachelor’s to advance from intern to public affairs specialist.
Casarez’s husband found SNHU online. “From the moment I interviewed over the phone, I said this is the place for me,” Casarez recalls. “My advisers really cared about me and wanted to help me meet my goals.”
She enrolled just before her second son was born in 2010. Her husband helped at home; her manager gave her flexibility at work. Her job – “telling the Air Force story” – involves writing for print and the Web, engaging with the community and providing media training to everyone from young airmen to commanders.
Last year, as part of her last SNHU course, Social Media, Casarez started a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter feed called Teen Mom Success, where young women can share their stories. If they need help, she looks for resources in their area.
“I use social media for myself and my job every day,” Casarez says, “but that course was the first time I realized I could use it to help people.”
Teen Mom Success has 900 Twitter followers and is growing, and 15 young mothers have told their stories for the blog.
Casarez hopes all of them will find the drive to complete their education. She did it for her job. She did it for her husband, who stayed home with the boys so that she could attend graduation. She did it for her sons.
“It took time to understand,” she says, “that mostly I had to do it for me.”
Joyce Goodale ’13
B.S. in Business Administration
Joyce Goodale ’13 used to see a college degree as a piece of paper that would prove something to other people. Now that she has her bachelor’s in business, she sees its true worth: what it’s done for her self perception.
“With a degree, I have much more confidence,” Goodale says. “Before, if my boss said, ‘I need you to complete an assignment,’ I’d think ‘Can I handle it?’ Now I say, ‘OK, this is what I need to get done’ – and I do it.”
Goodale works in Manchester, N.H., as a contract specialist on the commodities team of the Veterans Health Administration. She is responsible for purchasing anything from a toothbrush to complex medical equipment for VA medical centers across New England.
She credits her online courses in organizational leadership with giving her new perspectives. For instance, she now realizes that when an issue arises in an organization, it’s rarely the fault of one person. From her professors, she’s learned to look at the bigger picture and consider aspects such as supervisory structure or channels of communication.
Ten years of serving in the Air Force had already provided Goodale a broad worldview. Based at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, she deployed to England, Saudi Arabia and Cuba, amassing experiences that she felt qualified her for a wide variety of responsibilities in the civilian world. Companies that were hiring, however, didn’t always agree. Eventually she settled into a job she liked, in the eligibility section of the VA. She had some college credits, but without a degree, many doors to advancement remained closed.
Friends were taking online classes at SNHU, so she decided to try it – two courses a semester, steadily, for three years. With a husband and two children, a house and a full-time job, she was afraid that if she stopped or reduced her course load, she’d never start again.
Her son was 3 when Goodale enrolled. On weekdays, her rule was to do no schoolwork until after she put him bed. For her teenage daughter, meanwhile, “It was good to see mom getting good grades – so she did, too.”
Goodale especially liked the courses in which instructors gave frequent feedback, so that she and other students could improve their performance as they went along. By the time she finished, in February 2013, she appreciated a college degree as much more than a piece of paper. In fact, she purchased “a really nice frame” to showcase her proud accomplishment.
Dan Courant ’13
In the 25 years between starting his bachelor’s and finishing his MBA, Dan Courant ’13 followed many paths and one philosophy: When opportunity comes, grab it. And if it doesn’t come, find it.
Last year an ad for his dream job arrived in an email from SNHU Career Services. Though he was working full time and taking a full graduate course load, he knew he had to apply.
Courant received his MBA last fall, quit his job as an IRS revenue officer and started in January as a contract specialist for the Air Force in Massachusetts. He’ll train for two years to be part of a team that researches and negotiates contracts for weapons and communications systems.
The position pulls together his military and civilian experience in just the ways he’d hoped. It also justifies the support of his wife and two daughters, and his faith in himself, when the going got tough.
“Oh boy, the work/life balance was challenging,” says Courant, who took two MBA courses each semester. His wife works nights. Once he had finished his own workday, made dinner for his daughters and started them on their homework, he had barely enough energy to tackle his online courses.
“Weekends were a marathon,” he says, “writing papers with my eye on the clock.”
Courant has had a lifetime of experience turning circumstances into opportunities. When he ran out of money before finishing his bachelor’s at the University of Maine in 1992, it was a chance to head to Colorado to ski. A one-season dream became seven years of working in a ski lodge. That led to a passion for customer relations and marketing, which in turn persuaded him to finish his degree.
To do it, he joined the Navy – at age 30 with a wife and 1-year-old child. After six years as a sonar technician, tracking subs in the Middle East and drug-smuggling boats in South America, Courant returned to Maine. When a job he loved, international marketing for a lobster wholesaler, fell victim to the bad economy, he decided to build on the years he’d invested in the federal retirement system and joined the IRS.
Negotiating payment plans with delinquent taxpayers turned out to be surprisingly rewarding. And like everything he’s done, it yielded lessons that paid off later. Meanwhile, he was enjoying his face-to-face MBA courses at the Brunswick Center, but wasn’t sure he’d like studying online. A statistics course with faculty member Vlad Dolgopolov changed his mind.
“He’s an amazing professor who gave his students a totally different perspective on statistics and why it’s relevant to business,” Courant says. Though he happily cleared out piles of paperwork after the “phenomenal” feeling of finishing his MBA, he’s keeping his statistics notebook. “I know I’m going to be using those exercises at work, sometime soon.”