Current students enrolled in the MA-HRIR program may never have heard of the Plan A or Plan B options required for graduation, but for those students studying in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and early 2000’s, sometimes those requirements were all that stood between them and a completed degree. After taking and completing all required coursework, students had the choice of the Plan A thesis option, or a series of between one to three Plan B papers. And, sometimes, life got in the way!
Four HRIR alumni share their stories of the (sometimes decades) long pathway to their diplomas.
Lisa Diebel began the MA-HRIR program in 1995. She took evening classes year-round while working fulltime during the day. She was single and did not have kids at the time so although difficult, she says it was doable. Though she had completed her courses and one of her “Plan-B” theses by 1998, life got in the way of completing the final steps. In 1999 she was juggling work and a family (including twins), and the degree still wasn’t finished.
Fast forward to 2010, and Lisa says she was fed up with having “degree in progress” on her resume. With the encouragement of her family, she got back in touch with the program, and found out she only had a couple of classes left to complete her degree.
“Coming back to the school was a refreshing change for me.,” she says. “In a fast-paced job, it’s hard to fit in time for ‘outside-in’ thinking, so taking time to learn and focus on my professional capabilities was a bonus. I also found myself energized being exposed to the next generation of HR professionals.”
Finishing her degree helped Diebel land a new job. “For those considering returning to the program, I would highly encourage it,” she adds. “For those who say, ‘I don’t have time to finish,’ if I can fit in evening classes, while working, with young kids, anyone can!”
Michelle Drenth started the program in 1996. More than 20 years and six kids later (four of whom who are in college themselves), she’s working to finish her coursework and complete her degree. Though she hasn’t finished yet (she’s got one semester to go), Drenth says the biggest difference she noticed coming back to the program was the use of technology. Skype “wasn’t a thing” the last time she was here, she says, and instead of logging on to Google for any research or question she had, it was straight to the library to look things up in person. Now she’s getting work done with the help of Google Docs, teleconferences, and working with her peers.
She currently leads the recruiting function for a large division of a financial institution, so her lack of a completed degree hasn’t hindered her career growth. However, Drenth says it will feel good to finally check it off the list.
For other people considering coming back to complete their degree Drenth says, “DO it! The University of Minnesota is a great school, and Carlson is a wonderful graduate school. I have had fabulous professors, met interesting classmates, and generally feel like I am learning a ton and getting to exercise my brain in ways I don’t always get to do at work,” she adds.”
Laurie Gunn began the program before her first daughter was born, 25 years ago. It was when her two daughters were leaving home to attend college and graduate school that Gunn says she turned back to her own education and set out to finish her master’s degree.
Gunn lives in Vermont now, so all of her coursework was done online. This was daunting to her at first, she says, since when she first was enrolled in the program, technology barely played any role at all in her coursework. She quickly got the hang of things and she says she loved the freedom of asynchronous learning, especially with a busy career. She also said MA-HRIR Program Director Stacy Doepner-Hove was a huge help in navigating the remaining course requirements.
Gunn is currently the vice president of employee, patient and family experience for an academic medical center, and says she loves having her master’s in HRIR to round out her credentials. She notes that it is an expectation in an executive role like the one she has to have this level of education.
As far as advice for others considering returning, “I wish I asked the question sooner and just jumped in to complete my degree,” she says. “It was so much easier to accomplish than I expected and I managed it well even with a demanding work life. There are so many options for online and/or classroom learning that you can customize it to work for your needs and lifestyle.”
Tom Dobrick is another example of the “it’s never too late” mindset, and encourages others in the same position to take the plunge. “Do it, and as soon as your life circumstances allow,” he says. “The earlier in your career you complete the program, the longer a period of time you’ll have in which to enjoy the benefits.”
Dobrick relocated to Arizona in 2004, which complicated his plans. “While I would have been very interested in returning to campus (I have not been there since before construction of the Carlson School building began), due to my 2004 relocation to Arizona I took my final classes at Arizona State University and transferred the credit,” he says. “The one exception was the capstone course, which I completed via computer audio/video connection. One might expect that intergenerational differences between my classmates and me would have been a challenge (I was in my mid-50s when I returned to the classroom), but I think the opposite was true,” he recalls. “Many of my classmates seemed eager to establish a friendship with me, and often asked me questions about things which have changed in our society during my lifetime.”
Program staff are eager to assist others interested in completing their degree. “In the past eight years I have worked with 57 people to try to help them complete their degrees,” says Doepner-Hove. “Each time someone gets in touch, there is a story of strength and determination behind the call. I have talked with people who couldn’t complete for all sorts of reasons, but now they want that diploma on their wall. I enjoy talking with each individual student and working out how the completion will work for them. With the technology options we have available now – anyone can finish and we can help you figure out how.
“I have also had the opportunity to teach some of these returning students in class,” she says, “and there is simply nothing better than to have their experience in the classroom bringing concepts to life in a way that lectures and theoretical discussions simply can’t. We so value the chance to hear from these folks and are always thrilled to welcome them into the HRIR alum community.”
If you or someone you know is interested in closing the loop on your degree, please contact the program at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-624-5704.