ago, John Tackes, 41, was an engineering manager in Carol Stream,
Illinois. He enjoyed his job but wanted to learn how to do it
better. He looked around at master's degree programs, but
he knew that with a full-time job and three kids, ages 8, 6, and
2, it would be difficult. But then Tackes lucked out. He found
a program with the classes he wanted to take, designed for the
Internet, so he could get a master's degree from home. Tackes
graduated from the two-year Web-based Master of Engineering in
Professional Practice program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
in May. He is currently director of engineering at Delta-Power
Company in Rockford, Illinois.
Internet has been a huge advantage in terms of scheduling,
Tackes says. But it really was that the course curriculum
tied in to my aspirations and what I was doing at work.
graduate, Gary Michalek, 38, instructor of quality control at
GE Medical Systems in Waukesha, Wisconsin, also chose the program
for its course content. But with a wife who worked full time and
an infant, the scheduling flexibility was a big advantage. I
was always home at 5 pm, Michalek says.
curriculum gives you tools that really prepare you to move up
in management, Tim Webster, 29, manager of new technology
at John Zink in Shelton, Connecticut, says. A lot of engineers
I work with are considering MBAs. I recommend the MEPP program
as a much better alternative to an MBA.
degree is the only UW-Madison graduate degree delivered completely
over the Internet. The first class of 22 students graduated in
May. In order to get accepted to the program, candidates must
have at least four years of engineering work experience and a
bachelor's degree in engineering, although exceptions have
been made. All the students work full-time as engineers, which
is fortunate because about 90 percent get part or all of their
tuition paid by their employers. That isn't a small thing,
considering that the program costs $31,400 not including travel
to the week-long summer residency, software, or textbooks.
begin, students receive a study guide that includes a syllabus,
a list of textbooks, readings, software, and lesson notes for
each week. In addition to weekly assignments, students participate
in discussions online on topics that change weekly. Every week
or two, students participate in a conference call with their teacher
and fellow students and log onto the Internet at the same time,
so presentations can be made with the audio component. There are
two opportunities for the conference call in the course of the
week, so students can pick the time that best suits their schedules
that particular week. Students also work together on long-term
class goes through a fixed curriculum together, students develop
close personal bonds. You've been together for two
years, almost like a family, depending on each other, Oscar
Lewis, 50, senior technical consultant at Agilent Technologies
in Schaumberg, Illinois, says. Graduation was kind of hard.
You get to the end of something like that and it's really
difficult to break away.
and living with the other students for two years in an electronic
environment was special, Michalek says. There were
tears shed at graduation because we knew we wouldn't see
each other again.
interesting aspect of the program is that the first class of students
got to know each other over the Internet before they met in person,
and that made for some funny surprises. Tackes had talked to fellow
student Paul McDonald, who works at a military base and answered
questions with Yes sir and No sir. Although
McDonald was very approachable over the Internet, his height lends
him a commanding presence and makes him appear intimidating. Your
perceptions of people are very different when you meet them in
person, Tackes says. After a while, though, Tackes and the
other students realized that McDonald was the same person they'd
been communicating with all along, and they warmed up to him.
many students admit having reservations at first about the respectability
of a Web-based master's degree, none of them do anymore.
Asking if online education is quality education is like
asking if campus education is quality education. You have to look
at the university, program, and faculty, and talk to the students,
Wayne Pferdehirt, director of the MEPP program, says. Several
students feel confident that the University of Wisconsin's
reputation will lend credibility to their degrees. And many of
them couldn't have completed the degree if it weren't
a Web-based program that allowed for a flexible study schedule.
Some students, such as Tackes, weren't confident in their
Internet abilities before they started the program, and saw that
aspect as a separate learning opportunity. I think people
have perceptions that students who take Internet classes are Internet
whizzes, and I think it was just the opposite, Tackes says.
I had never really owned a personal computer until six months
before the program began. I think this program gave me a lot of
confidence in using the Internet as a learning tool.
part of the program is the discipline and commitment needed to
study for 20 hours a week in addition to a full-time job and family
commitments. You've got to turn the hobbies off for
two years, Tackes says. But the education becomes
a new hobby.
Porter Martin is an associate editor at Prism.
McDaniel grew up believing only men became engineers. But then
her paradigm changed. At the urging of a high school teacher,
she attended a national program called Expanding Your Horizons
(EYH) that encourages young women to take courses--and to consider
career options--in math and science.
opened up opportunities I hadn't considered," says McDaniel, who
now works for Agere Systems in Orlando and co-chairs an annual
EYH conference at the University of Central Florida.
"If it wasn't for EYH, I would not have been an engineer because
the picture that's always been painted for me is that engineers
are men. Seeing women who were successful in a traditionally male-dominated
field changed my outlook. If they could do it, so could I."
"can do" response is what EYH hopes for from all its participants.
Considering its roots, that's not surprising. EYH was one of four
intervention models created in the mid-1970s by the Math/Science
Network, an Oakland, California-based organization that strives
to increase the number of women in math and science-related professions.
The network was founded by women in industry who had few, if any,
female peers and by math educators who saw few females in classes
that weren't required.
to license EYH out nationally in the early 1980s with the idea
that people everywhere could do this and that women in math and
science would be happy to volunteer," says Betty Levitin, executive
director of the Math/Science Network. Today, more than 100 conferences
are held annually in 30 states, usually at universities or colleges.
More than 525,000 students, mainly middle-schoolers, have participated.
The conferences, which are funded and planned locally, generally
include a keynote speaker as well as various hands-on and informational
workshops led by women scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.
Some conferences also offer workshops for parents that include
discussions on financial aid and how to help a child study.
supporters have been the women in the community who come and participate,
the doctors, engineers and professors," says Lucy Morse, who started
EYH at the University of Central Florida in 1984 after becoming
the first woman there to get a Ph.D. in engineering. Major organizers
of these conferences include the Society of Women Engineers, the
American Association of University Women and the Association for
Women in Science.
in 2001, some young women still lack the encouragement to go into
math or science, says Morse. "I still think there are a lot of
people who aren't convinced that women can go into those fields.
We've got to get young women to take those courses so that if
they decide to go into a math or science field at some point,
they're not left behind."
goal in mind, EYH is not only designed for students who are college-bound
but also for students who may choose to practice a skilled trade
or get a technical degree. "I would hope that all of these young
women would get at least a B.A. but I also know the reality of
America in the 21st century," says Levitin. "The more math they
take, the better off they'll be and the better the opportunity
to advance in a job of any kind even if it's the difference between
a sales clerk and a manager. But I mostly want to hear about young
people who become engineers."
Wheeler is one such participant who became an engineer. She enthusiastically
remembers her first encounter with EYH. After all, the keynote
speaker was Sally Ride. "My impression of the program was that
you could be a woman in science and not be a stereotypical geek,"
says Wheeler, who received her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at
Stanford and works at the Lawrence-Livermore National Lab in California.
"I was bowled over by Sally Ride, that she would take time out
of her busy schedule. She told us if we sent her a stamped envelope,
she would send back an autographed picture. I still, to this day,
have the picture."
like other former participants, is giving back to the program
by volunteering. She co-chairs an EYH program in San Ramon, California.
"I get so much enjoyment out of the hands-on workshops," she says.
"It reminds me why science is fun."
Daniel is a freelance writer based in Fresno, California.