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The Best of Both Worlds

03-06-2014

The University's tuition remission program allows staff members to further their education at USF by enrolling in part-time degrees while working full-time. Anna Kessel, Edmond Kwok and Walter Petruska are three full-time USF staff members who are currently working toward graduate degrees at the School of Management.

“Being a student and a staff member has changed my professional prioritization,” said Kwok, who is currently getting his Masters of Science in Information Systems while also working in the University’s IT department. Before this, he completed his Part-Time MBA at USF, with an emphasis on International Business. “I understand what certain program components mean to both the University and the individual,” he continued. “Being able to participate as both staff and student brought these two things together. Seeing both sides gave me a new sense of pride in the Institution as a whole. I don’t think you can get that if you’re just a student, or just a staff member. It’s the merging of two worlds.”

Walter Petruska has been an IT staff member at USF for 10 years. He earned his Bachelor of Science in 2004, with a major in Organizational Behavior, and is currently completing his Part-Time MBA with a focus on International Business. “We're becoming better professionals and better employees," said Petruska. "We’re better staff members for knowing the student experience and in turn, we’re improving the student experience. We provide the University with feedback on programs and specific elements that are working really well, or could be improved. As a staff member, it’s important for me to know the student perspective, to know how USF can make its programs better. In the end we just want to provide the best education we can for our students and as a result, I truly believe that USF is better off as a university.”

The skills they’ve learned through their programs have allowed these student-staff members to apply their knowledge directly back into the workplace, essentially giving back to the University. “It gives you a professional advantage when you’re working for USF and then decide to go into the program,” said Anna Kessel, who is currently getting her MBA. She continued, “It makes us better at our jobs. Vice Versa, being a staff member and then enrolling in a program, it makes it easier to become a student. You already know the school and the community. You’ve got it down! That makes it easier to fit in and find your stride quickly.” Kessel earned her undergraduate degree at USF and was interested in going to graduate school. She considered USF as her employer so that she could take advantage of the tuition remission program, and has been working for USF since the Monday after she graduated from her Bachelor’s degree. 

“It makes a great marriage, studying here and working here,” said Petruska. “As staff, our employer understands, and will make certain exceptions if we need them. A lot of our colleagues have also been students here, they understand what we’re doing; it’s part of the culture here. Everyone gets outstanding support from their colleagues and supervisors. They’re all so supportive of continuing education.”

Recently, the three colleagues participated in the Academic Global Immersion (AGI) to the United Arab Emirates. They spent two weeks visiting local and international businesses there, and soaking up the local culture. “The AGI was the epitome of a Jesuit education to me,” said Kessel, “because Jesuits strive to educate people not just on an intellectual basis, but also want to educate the heart and soul. I think this is a project that does all of that, that doesn’t just focus on class-learned knowledge but truly immerses you in multiculturalism and diversity. I felt like my Jesuit education really made sense to me once I went on this trip. It was the highlight of my MBA experience.”

Kwok agreed with her. “No other course is quite like the AGI, in my experience,” he said. “You visit the companies, and it’s so much more than it seems on paper. You really get to experience how a business is run, you see behind the scenes, talk to CEOs and other leaders, and get honest answers to complicated questions about the inner workings of each company. We saw things that we can implement ourselves, later.” 

One of the most important things they took away from the trip, they felt, was seeing where USF stands with its global perspective on education, and how it measures up to other internationally focused learning institutions. “From an academic standpoint we are indeed very rigorous,” said Kwok, “it’s nice to see we measure up, and we’re very globally oriented. Dubai, on the other hand, has newer facilities because the UAE has more resources.” Kwok participated in the China AGI with Professor Roger Chen when he was finishing his MBA degree, and that was directly responsible for his decision to apply for a second degree. “On the China AGI I saw that there was so much I didn’t yet know about business,” said Kwok. “I signed up for another degree and then I signed up for the UAE trip very quickly. The AGIs consist of so much information in such a compressed amount of time.” Kwok is hopeful to participate in the Switzerland AGI this coming May with Professor Moira Gunn.

The three colleagues agreed that visiting the companies gave them a perspective onto business that they couldn’t have learned in a classroom, because the business leaders they spoke to were incredibly open about how they run their business and what challenges they face. “You get to hear what it’s really like,” said Petruska. “When you hear their personal stories you understand where they came from, and you get to hear what their job is really like. And all of their advice to us as students was great.” Another contributing factor, they agreed, was the fact that the AGI participants come from different backgrounds, different majors and different cohorts. The lines of questioning are different for every AGI participant, which means that some students ask questions others would never have considered asking, further enriching the experience.

Another perspective AGI courses offer that other classes simply can’t, according to Kessel, Kwok, and Petruska, is an unparalleled cultural immersion. Kessel said, “When learning a new culture, don’t just observe, don’t just think about multiculturalism and being diverse. Go to different countries, and immerse yourself in different cultures. It’s a whole different experience. And Professor Sidaoui does such an amazing job with this. He really helped us get more out of our education.” Kwok agreed with her. "Professor Sidaoui was such a great leader during this journey," he said. "Part of the reason we were all able to get so much out of the AGI was because of his tremendous commitment to his students and his passion for the quality of our cultural immersion. And that's what it was, a true immersion."

Written by Inge Lamboo