As a former Army interrogator, Jennifer McEachern is accustomed to asking tough questions. Her 13-year-old son, Pierce, takes after mom.
"He wants to be a scientist and get his Ph.D. in astrophysics," she said. "That's his goal right now, so I am encouraging him. Then he started questioning why I didn't go further in college than a bachelor's degree."
McEachern answered that tough question by enrolling in the LSUS online Master of Business Administration program with a Data Analytics Specialization in 2018. She also has an 8-year-old son, David, and a 16-year-old step-daughter, Madison, with her husband, Eric.
"A lot of the reason I did it was to show my kids that I'm 47 years old, and there's no reason you can't go back and achieve your goals," she said. "I was looking at online MBA programs for about a year or two, and I finally realized I could keep looking or I could start."
McEachern is a government contracts coordinator for Synnex, an information technology supply chain services company, in Greenville, South Carolina, where she has worked for more than seven years. The two main components of her position are reporting and data analysis.
"Another large part of the reason for the MBA is work," McEachern said. "My bachelor's degree helped me get my job, but in order to move forward, hopefully with this company, the MBA will help guide me in that direction. My goal is doing that on a larger level, on a management level, and understanding more of what I'm analyzing."
Another Brick in the Wall
McEachern enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. After basic training, she spent 18 months learning Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.
"When I finished, I went to Munich, where I worked as a strategic de-briefer," she said. "When the wall fell between East Germany and West Germany, the Russian soldiers who were in East Germany wanted to come over.
"I was in the Army, but we unofficially worked for NATO, talking to former soldiers and determining whether they would be allowed to stay in Germany, go to the U.S. or get sent back home. I did that for two years. It was really great."
After four years, she left the Army as an E-4 specialist and returned home to Florida in 1992. She studied international business and Russian at the University of South Florida before getting married and moving to North Carolina.
McEachern went back to work full time and pondered her future. She eventually returned to school and completed a Bachelor of Science in business in an accelerated program at Montreat College in 2002.
"It was really a question of what's next?" she said. "When I went back to work full time after we moved to North Carolina, I was in the business world, so the business degree was obviously my next step. "Montreat had an MBA program, but I couldn't afford it at the time. I kept putting it off because of work, and then I had two children and put it off more."
With the LSUS online MBA program with a Data Analytics Specialization, McEachern found the right option at the right price for her to take the leap to graduate school.
"First and foremost, it was the price," she said. "I work full time with two kids. I am doing this with student loans, and I didn't want my student loans to equal my mortgage. The second factor was that LSU is a recognized, prestigious university. That was big, as well.
McEachern has completed the MADM 710: Strategic Management of Human Capital and ACCT 701: Managerial Use of Accounting Data courses.
"With strategic management, I was able to look at what our company goals are, understand more how they were created and how I fit into them," McEachern said. "With accounting, I was able to better understand what my company is doing financially, other than just hearing what we're being told. I can see the numbers and know what they mean. Both courses have been beneficial."
So far, the flexibility of the program is also working out well with her schedule.
"I've only felt pressed for time once, but that's largely because I was going on vacation," she said. "My boss and company been very flexible and supportive.
"I don't do my coursework at work, although sometimes I might pull it up and look at it if I eat lunch at my desk. I haven't really felt the need. The amount of time that LSUS gives us is fair. I would say that you need to dedicate at least an hour or two an evening, if possible."
McEachern, who benefited from her company's tuition assistance program, encourages everyone seeking a degree to look into their employers' tuition reimbursement plans.
All Right Now
Another aspect of the online MBA program that McEachern enjoys is the collaboration with her classmates.
"In the accounting course, the students are talking about the class, the problems and about the questions that everybody has," she said. "The teacher will also jump in there and clarify things and help out as needed. In the forum, there's great communication with the students and the professor."
McEachern is on pace to graduate from the online MBA program with a Data Analytics Specialization in 2020. She is considering switching to a dual specialization by adding marketing and hopes to make the trip to Shreveport for graduation day.
"I think it would be cool for my family to see that," she said. "It's a long way off, but I would love to go."
Although it is challenging to balance work, school and two growing children, McEachern believes the online format makes earning a graduate degree manageable.
"You should definitely make sure you have the time before starting the program," she said. "Don't go into this thinking, 'This is online. This is going to be a piece of cake.' It's not. It's just as challenging as in class.
"It's not going to be easy, but it's not as difficult as you might think it will be, because you have so many resources available to you."
With the bulk of the curriculum still ahead of McEachern, she looks forward to broadening her horizons and being a positive influence on her kids.
"My family is very supportive," she said. "They're quiet when they know that I need to study. They give me time when I'm taking my tests. Most of the MBA is for my kids."
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