UWM online degree makes career change possible

Jordan Acevedo sits on the floor with his laptop while his children play nearby and his wife works with their daughter in the background.

Jordan Acevedo had reached a point in his life where he wanted to move into a different career.

However, with a full-time job and four children, he wasn’t quite sure how he would manage to get the education he needed to make that move.

He had a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from UWM and had been working in that field, but he was really interested in moving into web design and development.

“About five years ago is when I decided to look into something different,” said Acevedo, now 32. “Then I kind of lollygagged and waffled around about whether I could do it.”

Enrolling in the School of Information Studies at UWM helped make up his mind. “I took a course on Adobe Flash and loved it. I thought, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’”

His adviser steered him into the information science and technology program two years ago.

Being able to do most of his coursework online while still working full-time made it possible to complete that second degree, Acevedo said.

“That was a huge factor,” he said, “the fact that I could do it online for a cost that, compared to what most college credits cost, was extremely reasonable.”

The flexibility was vital in helping him fit coursework into a busy family and work life. His wife, recently retired as a Milwaukee police officer, was working full-time when he started back to school, so their regular schedules were challenging.

“I’d wake up at 6 a.m., get kids to school, go to work, come home about 5:30 or 6. Around 7 or 7:30, I’d do homework and readings.” He also took advantage of the free Lynda subscription through UWM, which allowed him to explore additional web courses.

And, when the unexpected happened, having the freedom to work online was vital, Acevedo said.

“I came home from work one night and my son was sick with an ear infection, so I had to take him to the doctor. My wife was at work and my daughter was at gymnastics class, so I would have had to go and pull her out of there if I’d had to go to a class. With the online course, I was able to do what I needed to do and finish up the classwork later in the week. I just had to make sure it was done by Sunday.”

Acevedo chose UWM because he was familiar with the campus and the program fit his needs. He was able to build on the core courses in areas such as mathematics and English that he’d taken for his previous degree, cutting down on the time needed to finish up this second degree. “That was a huge help.”

During the fall semester of 2016, he was among the nontraditional students honored with an academic achievement award. Adam Hudson, lecturer in the School of Information Studies, nominated him.

“Jordan works full time (and) has a young family at home, which is a lot to juggle,” Hudson wrote in his nomination letter. “He is an outstanding student and is engaged in class and does exceptional work. He has been a pleasure to have in class and as a participant in the Nonprof-IT internship program at SOIS.”

Acevedo worked for the Nonprof-IT program, which Hudson directs, for two semesters. The program provides information technology services and web design to nonprofits, giving students hands-on experience working in teams with clients.

Nonprof-IT gave him a chance to learn about community organizations and the work they are doing with often limited resources, Acevedo said. He worked on a web redesign project with Community First, an organization helping low-income residents with repair projects, during the spring 2015 semester. Then in fall 2016, he was part of the first-ever all online student Nonprof-IT team that worked with the Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center to upgrade their website.

Those experiences at Nonprof-IT were invaluable to him, said Acevedo.

“I wanted to do it because I wanted the experience of working with a team,” he said. “I knew that with my family and a full-time job, I couldn’t do an internship. This was a way to build up my experience nontraditionally and have things to put in the portfolio.”

He graduated in May 2017, and is looking for a job in web design and development, but is not leaving his current job until he finds one that is just the right fit, he said.

Meanwhile, he’s started his own small company, Jace Web Design, doing freelance web development work.

“This gives me a way to keep my skills sharp doing actual work,” he said. “It’s nice to take the lessons and apply them to a real project. In a perfect world, I’d like to work for myself designing websites. I believe I can get there.”

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