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Building relationships with classmates was key to success for OSU Ecampus alumnus

Vaughan Schmidt, a computer science postbacc alumnus, says the connections he made through Ecampus helped him launch his new career — and create lasting friendships.

By Jordan Friedman
Oct. 14, 2020

For Vaughan Schmidt, the online format of his computer science degree program allowed him to build strong virtual relationships with his classmates. As a postbaccalaureate student with Oregon State University Ecampus, he interacted with students around the world and from a range of professional backgrounds.

Over his 18 months with Oregon State, Schmidt completed group projects remotely and formed virtual study groups with classmates using shared platforms for live conversations. Despite the fact that he and many other students were working full time and, in some cases, also juggling family responsibilities, they still found time to collaborate, exchange ideas and network.

“We would often have ‘live study group’ sessions where whoever was available was contributing,” Schmidt says. “But the text chat also worked great asynchronously as many of us were spread across time zones. You could almost always find a classmate online.”

Schmidt, who finished the postbacc program in 2015, says his experience with OSU Ecampus was vital to his success as a software engineer. When he first entered the program, he was a “project manager/jack-of-all-trades” for a small family business. One of his responsibilities was tech support, but he wanted to take those skills to the next level.

“My résumé wasn’t super strong. It was hard to capture my skill set on paper,” Schmidt says. “The software aspect of my job was one of the most interesting, but I really had no formal education in it. It was all just self-taught.”

Schmidt decided earning a second bachelor’s degree, this time in computer science, would help him add skills and alter his career path. But, living in South Carolina at the time, he wasn’t near an in-person program that truly met his needs. He turned to Oregon State for its online format where he could start his degree soon after he applied and complete the course requirements quickly.

The 60-credit program taught Schmidt the basics of computer science and software engineering and about topics including computer systems, mobile and web development, and user interfaces. When he was in his last term with Ecampus, he landed a job at Garmin as a senior software engineer on the aviation maps team.

Though the specific programming languages that Schmidt has used in his career have changed over the years, many of the skills he gained as an Ecampus student are still crucial to his work. Completing his coursework online allowed him to develop self-sufficiency and strong time management skills.

But it was the team projects he worked on with his classmates that were the most valuable, he says.

For instance, Schmidt and two of his classmates designed a mobile web app for a community recycling organization for their capstone project. In other classes, they collaborated to solve algorithms and real-world engineering problems.

“The fact is, in software you’re working on a larger team every day,” says Schmidt. “Just learning how to interact with people at a technical project level is hugely important.”

Schmidt says he is still in touch with many of his former Ecampus classmates. He is connected with many of them professionally and even met a few in person.

“It’s possible to build some strong social relationships that aren’t just about the coursework,” he says.

In 2019, he ran into one of his Ecampus classmates at a computer science showcase in Portland. She worked at Intel and mentioned a software engineering opening on her team. Fast forward a few months, and that’s where Schmidt works today in a full-stack environment.

Schmidt wants prospective students to know that the “huge support network” he developed with his peers at Ecampus was invaluable during and after his time as a student. Students interacted using a wide variety of digital platforms and communication tools — to answer each other’s questions, provide advice and share their own experiences.

Today, he works on the same team at Intel as three other graduates of Oregon State’s online postbacc computer science program.

“All the peers I’ve kept up with in the program have quickly landed jobs in software engineering after graduation,” he says. “I think this says a lot on the effectiveness of the program overall.”

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