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My Continuing Education: Going Back to School without Going Back to School

Posted By John Peterson, Friday, July 26, 2013
Updated: Friday, July 26, 2013

For several years I’ve been on the lookout for a suitable Master’s Degree program. Before I define "suitable”, and fill you in on what I’ve discovered, let me share some background.

After earning my Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University I worked as a fruit and vegetable inspector for the USDA in New York State; after this job ran out I traveled westward, hoping to snag similar positions in the Green Acres of California. Instead, I took a job with a construction subcontractor, for whom I worked for a few years. In that time I rekindled a latent love of photography and made it work-related: I began photographing our projects and maintaining albums of job-progress photos. That passion continued after I left the company with dreams of plying my photo trade full-time. I fell into Ophthalmic Photography in 1995 and have never looked back. I’ve been at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics for 15 years.

While I was following my own path many of my college friends were getting advanced degrees and marching forward into the corporate, medical, or legal professions. I, too, held onto a desire to return to school, seeing how I knew much more about life than I had when I entered college as a naive 18 year old. If undergraduate years are a springboard into a world of ideas and opportunity, then graduate school is your chance to refine your focus and march ahead with a clearer idea of what you want from life.

As soon as I became a father I knew that returning to school full-time was not an option. My search for graduate programs was put on the back burner until the emergence in the past few years of quality evening / part-time / online programs designed especially for working people. I swung and missed at a few intriguing but not-quite-right programs. I finally connected in late 2011 when I discovered Western Governors University’s Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program in IT Management.

Several factors converge for me in this program: The emphasis is relevant to my skills and aspirations, the degree is well-respected, the program is rigorous, and it is 100% online. Oh, and the price is right. WGU is a non-profit that keeps prices low while taking great pains to build personal connections. Visit for more information than I can provide here (no proprietary interest).

So what’s it like going back to school without going back to school? I rise an hour earlier than usual each morning, and do schoolwork before breakfast. Evenings, it’s dinner with my wife, then back to the books; I quit in time for us to share a drink over "The Daily Show”. On weekends I’ll put in a few more hours, depending on the social calendar. Friday is my one night off per week. I find that methodically plodding toward a goal is immensely powerful. Be faithful to your routine, and the tasks melt away behind you like highway miles on a cross-country road trip.

To prepare for the written assignments (of which there are between one and four per course) we’re given E-Books and articles to read, videos to watch, and simulations to carry out. There are eleven courses total in the program; I’m currently on Number 8, IT Strategic Management. The final course is a Capstone Project that should encompass everything I’ve learned in the program. We’re supported by a student mentor, course mentors, and an active online community.

Observations? I tend to adopt personality traits that reflect the course material I’m currently working on. For example, while taking IT Project Management, I began to view every task I undertook in terms of starting points, endpoints, and milestones, and visualized my life as one giant Gantt Chart. I became greener in my habits when studying Social Responsibility, and subconsciously calculated Returns on Investment while in Financial Analysis.

I expect to finish my program in January 2014. What follows after that remains to be seen. I believe I’ll be well positioned to make myself useful at a higher level in the nexus between Ophthalmology, Imaging Science, Information Technology, and Business.

So, what’s your plan?


John Peterson BS, CRA is Director of Ophthalmic Photography Services at the UW Health Eye Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin. He began his career at the University Eye Clinic in Basel, Switzerland. In his spare time he runs a small farm, hunts fossils, dresses up as a pirate, and writes about macro photography at, although not all at the same time. He is currently a candidate for an MBA in IT Management at Western Governors University. Politically, he is against some things and in favor of others.

Tags:  blog  cute  education  funny  Ice Breakers  New Life  PDC  Study 

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Comments on this post...

Timothy J. Bennett CRA OCT-C says...
Posted Friday, July 26, 2013
Nice blog post John - very well written!
Permalink to this Comment }

Adeline M. Stone, COT CRA CDOS says...
Posted Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Thanks for this!! I too have been looking for a chance to go back to school too but have yet to find the right program for the right price...! I will keep looking and will not give up :)
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