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Learning while you earn

For working students and their employers, OSU Ecampus offers instant benefits, long-term value online

Ecampus student Michelle Cramer leans against a wooden deck with a forested area in the background.

A manufacturing engineer for Boeing by day, Michelle Cramer doubles as an engineering management master’s student online with Oregon State University Ecampus, all to gain a better understanding of Boeing’s managerial workings.

By Erin J. Bernard

A young Boeing engineer who is looking to rise in ranks hits the books in her off hours and discovers a smarter approach to on-the-job project and people management.

A state of Oregon IT procurement worker and devoted dad cracks his laptop during dance and swim practices and cultivates a more nuanced view of the technologies he encounters daily.

Such scenarios are increasingly typical for the many Oregonians who work full time while pursuing degrees online — and Oregon State University Ecampus is meeting the needs and preferences of adult learners by tailoring programs to the lifestyle of these working professionals.

The flexibility of online learning benefits students and employers alike, says Mitzi Montoya, dean of Oregon State’s College of Business.

“It’s the nature of global innovation that you have to be able to work with experts that are not collocated with you and do it effectively,” says Montoya, whose college offers six business programs that are delivered fully online or in a hybrid (online/face-to-face) format through OSU Ecampus. “The pace of technological innovation is changing quickly, and that’s embedded in all our Ecampus programs geared for working adults.”

Technology is supercharging the business and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields particularly fast, and Oregon State is pacing the trend by developing programs in high-demand disciplines that are delivered in flexible formats. OSU Ecampus, the university’s nationally ranked online education unit, is growing its catalog of fully online and hybrid programs to include offerings such as data analytics, business analytics, computer science and innovation management.

“It’s nice to have a perspective from the management side in my classes to see why managers do what they do and why they’re doing it that way.”

The promise of career continuity, paired with coursework that’s relevant right now, appealed to Ecampus student and Boeing manufacturing engineer Michelle Cramer.

Cramer, who holds an OSU bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, craves a deeper understanding of Boeing’s managerial workings. That’s why she’s pursuing a Master of Engineering in Industrial Engineering for engineering management — an uncommon offering in the online education world — and devoting 10 to 15 hours of her free time for coursework each week.

Her project and operations management coursework has already come in handy.

“It’s nice to have a perspective from the management side in my classes to see why managers do what they do and why they’re doing it that way,” she says.

The Ecampus program also offers practical benefits for Cramer and her employer, who is helping fund her studies.

Oregon State Ecampus business student Christopher McCormick looks to his right while smiling and squinting. He wears a burgundy sweater over a collared shirt.

Christopher McCormick is pursuing a bachelor’s degree online in business administration while working in IT procurement for the state of Oregon.

“When I’m working on my engineering projects, I am now able to see the end goal of the project, and I’m focused on that goal,” she says. “That’s going to make me more successful and cost-effective.”

Working while you learn takes commitment, says Ecampus student Christopher McCormick, who’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree online in business administration while working in IT procurement for Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services and raising a family. He’s banking on the idea that his commitment will earn him unbeatable stability, plus a big-picture advantage.

“When you’re working for the state, you can go left, right, up and down, and having that college degree will help open up more doors for me,” McCormick says.

Business law and management coursework has demystified complex contractual terminology, and in IT, the benefits of mastering new online technologies go without saying.

“In dealing with technology, you always have to adapt to any type of new user interface,” McCormick says. “Learning online forces you to learn using those tools. And the more I use them, the better I get.”

Higher education has always represented an investment in the future, but when a student can also connect coursework to daily work, the returns become instantaneous, according to Montoya.

“It really closes that loop of learning and adds practical value for the employer and the student,” she says.

This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of Oregon Business magazine and on its website.

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