Interview with Rory Dowd: Stay-at-home dad earning Masters online
1) Rory please tell us about yourself? Where are you from? What do you do? What did you study in college? How many kids do you have?
Originally from St. Louis, Mo, I dropped out of college and travelled during my twenties, ending up in Reno, NV, where I have lived primarily since 1996. I have been a local entertainer for most of that time, performing as a poet, comedian and event emcee. In that time I returned to school as non-traditional student, earning my A.A. at Truckee Meadows Community College, then a B.A. in English (Creative Writing) at the University of Nevada, Reno. I have been working as a freelance writer and web content writer for the better part of a decade and currently host a one-hour weekly podcast on Reno arts, culture and events. I am the housedad to my wife of six years and our five-year-old daughter.
2) What were the decision factors that led you to go back to school?
Frankly, boredom is what led me back to school. Two and a half years ago, I did not have any freelance work and had recently quit a part-time job as a bar manager, due to the hours conflicting with getting up at 5am with a toddler. Additionally, my wife's job had led us to Louisiana where we didn't have many friends and no support network to speak of. I spent 95 percent of my time with my infant/toddler daughter. I wasn't feeling particularly creative, in terms of writing; I had a little bit of cabin fever and was mildly discontented with my life. I saw graduate school as a challenge and an opportunity to increase my employability while I was not working full-time. Studying was something I could do with a child in tow, and I would be finishing my degree program right about the time my daughter was old enough for Kindergarten.
3) Why did you decide to earn a degree online?
Online education is cost- and time-effective. We couldn't afford the costs of daycare for me to return to work, much less to return to school where I wouldn't make any money. In online programs I had the chance to take asynchronous classes, attending when I had time to, which often was after 9 or 10pm, and after a day of child rearing. Additionally, the cost of a proprietary school was comparable to that of attending a brick-and-mortar university, but without all the facilities fees.
4) What type of degree are you earning? Which school are you attending?
I am currently enrolled in a Master of Science in Higher Education program with a specialization in Student Services at Kaplan University. It is an intensive program of ten-week terms with one week off in-between. I began the MSHE program in March of 2009 and am on track to graduate in December 2011.
5) What's the best part of the experience?
The best part of the experience has been networking with active student affairs professionals. I, unlike many of my peers, do not already have a job in higher education. Over the past two years I have become professionally friendly with a number of professors and classmates outside of class. I have come to rely on them for advice and mentoring as any student would in a traditional program.
6) What's the most frustrating part of the process?
Some of the early classes in the program were frustrating; some of my fellow classmates were not quite up to par as online communicators or scholars. They were often under-prepared for a graduate degree and could be hard to work with in projects or discussions.
7) How have your job prospects changed as a result of earning the degree?
I'm now qualified for professional jobs--salaried, with benefits--in higher education administration and a few other related industries. The education from my online grad school has helped me acquire the skills and confidence to combine my talents as a writer with my abilities as a student affairs specialist.
8) How many hours per week is the commitment to school?
The rule of thumb is that you should study two to three hours per week per credit hour. However, graduate classes are five credit hours and I only took one course at a time. I probably spent more like three to four hours studying, or roughly 15-20 hours per week. It requires the same commitment as a job.
9) Anything else you'd like to add?
I was apprehensive about online education. I thought I may have just started paying for a useless piece of paper from a degree mill when I started. However, I've found the program to be quite rigorous and challenging. School truly is what you make of it; I have put forth my best effort and gotten a lot out of it. In addition to a 4.0 GPA and membership in honors societies, I now have a small professional network I can rely on.