What does a mom do when her kid goes off to college? She goes, too, naturally.
No, Gloria Jedinak, Communications and Public Affairs, didn’t pack her bags and move into her son’s dorm at Drexel. But as she hunted around for something to keep her mind off of her emptying nest, a co-worker suggested that she take some college classes.
Gloria hadn’t continued her education beyond secretarial school after high school. She wasn’t sure starting over at this stage in her life was a good idea.
“I said, ‘You’re crazy - me?’” she recalled. But after giving it some thought, she decided to take the plunge.
That was ten years ago. Recently, Gloria walked across the stage at Moravian College to receive her Bachelor of Arts in organization management.
Through Lehigh’s tuition benefits program, employees can take undergraduate classes at the member institutions of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges(LVAIC) tuition free.
“The benefits covered everything except the cost of books,” Gloria said. “It was a blessing and a privilege. I couldn’t have gone if this wasn’t provided.”
Gloria began her studies with zero college credits. But many Lehigh staff members using LVAIC tuition benefits have taken some college in the past and are returning. That was the case for Cindy Moser, Office of the Vice President and Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Studies.
“I had an associate’s degree from Lehigh Carbon Community College that I earned right after high school,” Cindy explained, “Then I started course work at Cedar Crest in 1984 while working for another organization.”
Cindy’s life took another turn when she started a family. “The kids came along – that little word that changes everything – in 1986 and 1987,” she said.
She started a home-based business so that she could work flexibly around her children’s schedule. Along the way, she also returned to school, earning more college credits. Still, completing her bachelor’s degree eluded her.
“I realized lacking a bachelor’s degree put me at a disadvantage,” Cindy said.
That’s why when she became eligible for LVAIC tuition benefits through her job at Lehigh, Cindy re-enrolled at Cedar Crest. She discovered many of her credits from previous courses could be applied toward her degree. In less than three years, she graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science in business administration.
Not that it was easy. “You have to be very determined,” Cindy said. “You find out you have time management skills you didn’t know you had. But LVAIC was awesome, you can take courses from any of the schools and you can really make it work.”
Shelley Drozd, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Susan Szylagyi, Controller’s Office, had also earned associate’s degrees and taken courses at various points in their careers. Like Cindy, both felt that not having a bachelor’s degree made them less competitive professionally.
For Shelley, this became clear after she lost a job she had held for many years at a large local company. The job world had changed in the intervening time, and she began applying for jobs online.
“I would fill out the application,” she reflected, “But that I couldn’t check the “BA/BS” box made it hard to find professional work. That’s when the unfinished business of getting my bachelor’s degree took on a whole new urgency.”
Soon after beginning work at Lehigh as a communications specialist, Shelley started looking into the right program to complete a degree. After watching a family member go through the hospice experience, her personal interests began moving toward chaplaincy in health care settings. She chose Moravian College, where she was able to pursue a bachelor’s degree in religious studies through the Comenius Center for Continuing and Graduate Studies.
Shelley didn’t have to limit her studies to Moravian. “We’re so lucky to have all of these really great schools in the Lehigh Valley, and through LVAIC you can go to any of them to get what you need,” she said. Among other classes, she took Modern Islamic Thought and Bioethics at Lehigh with Professors Khurram Hussain and Lloyd Steffen, respectively. She also spent a year at Moravian Theological Seminary studying Biblical Hebrew.
Susan Szilagyi was just 12 courses shy of her bachelor’s degree when she started her family. She had earned college credit at Allentown College of St. Francis DeSales (now Desales University) after high school and had more credits amassed at Moravian.
As her sons grew and became more independent, Susan decided she was ready to push through to the finish. “On a whim, I went up to DeSales and I signed up.” she said.
Much to her delight, all of her prior credits transferred. It would take her another two and a half years, while working an 80 percent schedule at Lehigh, to graduate magna cum laude with a BS in accounting this spring.
Through DeSales’ Access program, nontraditional students like our Lehigh staff members can compress courses into half the time. The courses run for eight weeks instead of sixteen, and offer a mix of in-class and online instruction.
“I took two classes per semester and over the summer as well,” Susan explained. “The summers were the hardest because it’s our busiest time in the Controller’s office.”
Susan has been at Lehigh for 17 years. “I’m at Lehigh for the long haul,” she continued, “So, I felt that it would help me in my current job as well as with my future here. Our business is education, so we really value learning and the credentials that come with it.”
Career advancement is a part of the reason that Susan, Shelley, Cindy, and Gloria took on the challenge of completing their undergraduate degrees. But the accomplishment itself was perhaps the greatest reward.
“Getting a degree at this age, especially a liberal arts degree, is exhilarating,” Shelley reflected.“You connect the dots so much better. I honestly see the world with new eyes.”
“It was right up there with getting married and having a baby,” she said. “I don’t know why more Lehigh employees don’t do this.”