Jeremy Renshaw had always wanted to earn his college degree, and it was something that he found himself thinking about more and more in recent years. However, he was a successful business professional, with a demanding job as a general manager at DISH Network. He was in his early 40s, with a young family. Between long hours at work and family obligations—not to mention the significant expense of the university programs he had researched—there was always something to keep his college plans on the back burner.
Then, a little more than a year ago, a combination of circumstances made it clear to Jeremy that, if he was going to pursue his degree, the time was finally right. In the following interview, Jeremy discusses the factors that led him to enroll, his experience of being a new college student as an adult, working professional, as well as his goals for the future.
California Southern University: Could you tell us a little more about your current position at DISH?
Jeremy Renshaw: I am a general manager in the home-service side of our field organization. I operate two service facilities in the Bay Area, with about 100 technicians, 20 support staff, field managers, operating managers and warehouse staff. Together, we handle all the installation and service work for the region.
CalSouthern: At 43, you have a leadership position with an outstanding company; your career seems to be on a fast track. And yet, you’ve chosen to devote much of what would be leisure or family time toward the pursuit of your college degree. Why?
Renshaw: I’ve always wanted to earn my degree; it’s been something I’ve thought about for years, but the timing never seemed right. Also, when I researched some other online universities a few years ago, I realized that many programs are quite expensive, so economics became an issue, too. And many of the programs require group work, which is just not for me.
Then, about a year ago, my employer implemented a preference favoring the hiring and advancement of individuals with college degrees. At the same time, the company made its tuition reimbursement program even more generous; they want people to use it and are very clear about that. These factors combined to make it clear it was time to begin researching universities again. I like my company and want to advance. Plus, I would be foolish not to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement opportunity.
CalSouthern: How did you find CalSouthern?
Renshaw: My human resources representative suggested that I look into it, along with a few others she thought might be a good fit.
I liked the fact that CalSouthern didn’t focus on so many different disciplines. They have three schools—psychology, business and law—and seem to have developed a solid reputation in these areas. The comments and reviews I read confirmed that the quality of the education was high. Plus, the cost and the flexible payment options worked for me, which was an important factor, too.
CalSouthern: What degree program did you choose?
Renshaw: I am enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts program in the School of Psychology. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology, and by learning about what makes others tick. And in my position, I manage 100 workers with 100 different personalities, who encounter a wide variety of issues every day. To be able to understand human psychology and be able to help employees work through problems—or to train and coach them—is invaluable. So the BA made sense for me.
CalSouthern: Did you have any apprehension about returning to formal education after so many years away?
Renshaw: I did. However, the first few classes seemed to be designed to help students get back in the groove, and get their feet under them while they become familiar with the online environment. As you progress, the pace picks up and the content becomes more challenging. And the faculty mentors are no slouches—they’re helpful, but demanding, too. If you think the online higher education experience is going to be an easy one, you are in for a rude awakening, at least at this university.
CalSouthern: What is the biggest challenge about online learning?
Renshaw: Certainly, it’s time management. The program requires a significant time commitment. DISH is a dynamic company and it’s always busy; sometimes, my job is seven days a week with some travel. So I needed to make the time, which requires sacrifices. Fortunately, because my employer understands how much I work, there are times, especially when traveling, that I am able to block out some time during the day to do my reading, which frees me up to focus on my written assignments at nights and on the weekends.
There’s a certain amount of self-reliance required. You can’t rely on classroom lectures and dialogue to learn the coursework. You need to engage yourself with the material and reach out to the faculty mentor if you have questions. But for me, that’s a benefit. I find that I get much more out of the material when I have to focus intently on it—rather than relying on the perceptions and viewpoints of others, as can happen in the classroom environment.
CalSouthern: CalSouthern is a 100-percent online program. Do you find you get enough support in that environment?
Renshaw: Absolutely. My advisor has been helpful, but most of the interaction I’ve had has been with my faculty mentors. It took me a little while to figure out the best way to communicate and ask for clarification in the online format, but I’ve been able to quickly develop a pattern of communication with all my faculty. They’ve been polite and helpful and have always responded to a question the same day. So far I haven’t had to reach out for assistance from the librarian; I’ve been able to do all my own research and find everything I’ve needed on my own.
CalSouthern: You have a family and a demanding job. Sometimes you must get tired and have to search for motivation. Where do you find it?
Renshaw: If I sit down to study and recognize that my head’s not in it, I’ll just take the night off, regroup and spend some time with my family and come back to it the next day. That’s a great thing about the flexibility of online learning. I might have to work a little longer the next day, but to get anything out of a study session, you need to be 100-percent focused. It’s like running. If you feel sluggish or tired, you won’t get anything out of the workout and you may just run yourself down—certainly the results won’t be there. Better to skip the run and then go after it hard the next day.
CalSouthern: What do you like the least about your online learning experience?
Renshaw: I have to admit it’s probably when I see a 10-page final paper on the syllabus. Those are challenging to me because of the time required to do it and do it well. But there’s really nothing I can point to as something I wish the university would change. The coursework has been engaging and challenging and it’s been easy to follow the syllabus and get help when I need it. I’ve got no complaints.
CalSouthern: How do you see applying your degree when you graduate? What are your goals for the future?
Renshaw: One of the great aspects of this is that there are a number of paths I could take. I could advance in what I am doing or perhaps even get out of operations and pursue human resources, which is a growing, evolving field, especially in large organizations like DISH. And it would mesh perfectly with the psychology degree. Or, maybe I will head in an entirely different direction in psychology. You may never discover a new opportunity unless you challenge yourself to experience something different. So I don’t know exactly what specific direction it will take, but my growth moving forward is something I have been able to sense and feel because of the education experience I’ve had so far.