A Master’s Degree + Family

It’s hard, but you can have it all–you can study for a master’s degree and raise a family while working full-time. Take it from Ron and Tanya Higgins, two working professionals who completed online master’s degrees from UW-Madison while raising two children. To see the visual story with Adobe Spark, click here.

Tanya and Ron had a lot on their plates when they decided to enroll in the Master of Engineering: Engineering Management program through the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The couple worked together at John Deere; Ron was a senior engineer Wire Harness Team lead and Tanya was a supplier quality engineer on New Product Programs. In addition, the engineering couple was raising two young girls.

Tanya and Ron both wanted to obtain their master’s degrees but they needed a plan to fit the courses with their busy schedules. Ron decided to go through the two-year program first and came up with a structured plan.

“I remember the first thing that we ever had to do in the summer was make up a calendar with the things that we typically do with work hours, sleep and whatever,” Ron said. “We put it on the calendar and then carved out an extra 20 hours on there to figure out what you have to give up and move around.”

The first year for Ron went by quickly since the motivation and excitement offset the lack of sleep and free time. When Tanya entered the program two years later, the couple had a system worked out.

“It was a little bit easier for us the second time around when I went to school because we both had already gone through the program once he went to school so we knew what to expect,” Tanya said. “I think the adjustment when I went to school was a lot easier.”

The structure of the courses played a major role in time management for Tanya and Ron. Since the courses are online, the couple could complete their assignments from anywhere around the world as long as they had an Internet connection.

“You can do your classes, work, and homework from anywhere so we did the program skiing in Colorado, we did the program going to Disney World with our kids, we did the program all over the place, work trips, it didn’t matter we never had to take a leave,” Tanya said. “Just from a tactical standpoint, it worked very well for our lifestyle.”

Along with the convenience of the online MEM program, the instructors were very accommodating for their students.

“I think they really make the effort,” Ron said. “It’s not like your undergrad where you’re a student and you just show up to class; they show the interest. They want to make sure that you got the best experience from the program.”

Despite the hectic schedules Tanya and Ron had ahead of them, they successfully completed the MEM program and obtained their master’s degrees. They both still work at John Deere but Tanya is now the global manager for the John Deere Quality and Production System and Ron is a staff engineer for the Software Product Verification and Validation Team.

With a little time management, they were able to complete their degree programs successfully.

“There’s never a right time and things will never slow down,” Tanya said. “Don’t think about it as a two-year program, just take it one semester at a time, one class at a time and know that the university is as committed to your success as you are.”