Pushing 30 and Pursuing a Master’s Degree

By Lynnea Tapp, Geotechnical EngineerGresham-Lynnea

The thought of pursuing a master’s degree in my late 20’s wasn’t exactly a thrilling idea. While working full-time at KCI, maintaining a home, paying bills, and balancing a social life, going back to school didn’t seem to fit in. However, after careful consideration of the benefits, and encouragement from my practice leader, Kwabena Ofori-Awuah, PE, ENV SP, I decided to move forward with the master’s degree program. The most important factor for me was to identify a post-graduate program that was structured for working adults, which I found with Johns Hopkins University Engineering for Professionals. At the time of my decision to go back to school, I had been with KCI for about five years, which meant that the firm would pay 100 percent of the tuition for this endeavor. How could I turn that down? KCI just asks that you stay with the firm for three years following completion of your coursework. The idea of working here longer wasn’t a bad idea either since I was very happy with the company. I definitely looked forward to advancing my career as an engineer with KCI post-graduation.

Timing was everything. I contemplated going back to school in fear that working full-time would interfere, that I would be tired and either not perform well in school, at work, or both! Several conversations with my practice leader eased my fears. He assured me that KCI (specifically he and my senior managers) would support me in this endeavor as much as possible. This included allowing a flexible work schedule to attend classes that started before 5pm, scheduling fieldwork around days that I had classes, and giving me the option to work over the weekend if I needed extra time during the afternoon to study. They were indeed supportive.

Most of my team had already pursued master’s degrees and, in some cases, doctoral degrees. Understandably, they knew exactly what it would take for me to do well. This was encouraging, especially while pursuing a degree in geotechnical engineering. Each semester, I found that the practical experience gained from working at KCI helped tremendously while in graduate school.  I was surprised to discover how much of the coursework I was already pretty familiar with…which made the end goal less intimidating. On average I completed two courses per semester (including summers) in an effort to complete the program sooner than later.  Now that it’s all behind me, although challenging at times, pursuing a post-graduate degree while working at KCI was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In addition to the obvious reward, I gained a best friend during the process, a fellow KCI employee and JHU graduate, Michelle, which is something I’ll cherish for a lifetime.