Persevering In The Face Of Challenges: Meet John Dolan

Grad school is hard, everyone knows it.


John Dolan

Want to make it harder? Try an online engineering master’s program while raising a family with a full-time job while deployed in the Middle East with the military.

That’s what John Dolan, a recent graduate of UW-Madison’s Master of Engineering: Engineering Management program and former civil engineering officer for the U.S. Air Force, did while completing graduate school.

“During the program, I was deployed twice. I had to interview with companies to get a civilian job after only ever working in the military. I moved from Illinois up to Minneapolis. Our second child was born. I bought a house during the program,” Dolan said. “Name a life event, and I probably had it!”

Throughout the program, Dolan encountered time management challenges. At home, he followed a strict schedule to manage time efficiently. “If there wasn’t time to go to a movie or go to a friend’s to relax, sorry it didn’t fit in the schedule. It wasn’t necessarily fun but it was the only way I could fit everything in.” While in the Middle East, he had to adjust his sleeping schedule to work on group projects. “Sometimes I would have team meetings with other students in my class at midnight or 4 a.m. or whenever so that way they could have an evening time back in the U.S.,” Dolan said.

But challenges like time management and skipping social outings to focus on work never stopped him.

“I had always wanted to get my master’s degree,” he said. “I wanted to keep learning and growing and getting better. I wanted to develop myself as a professional in the engineering industry.”

Getting a degree in Engineering Management was challenging for Dolan, that’s for sure, but he had an advantage from his experience as a captain in the military. “The Air Force does a good job of constantly trying to teach, mentor and grow its officers for their future jobs,” he said. “We were really focused on leading, training and managing.”

However, when he came out of the military to finish his master’s degree, Dolan had to adjust to his new civilian job as project manager at Leo A. Daly, an architectural and engineering design firm in Minneapolis.

“It’s definitely a big culture adjustment,” Dolan said. “When I was with the Air Force, I was doing a lot of construction management, team and people leadership, lots of teaching, whereas with my new company, I’m doing a lot more of team leadership specifically with just engineering design.”

Dolan’s degree in Engineering Management is helping him through these current challenges, though they seem small in comparison to the challenges he faced in the degree program itself.

“The [program] course development had those technical sides that are very engineering skills, but at the same time it also incorporated the leadership aspect of learning how to lead and manage people even more” – skills which Dolan applies to his job today as a project manager.

“During an actual project, I will lead and coordinate the design effort to make sure the team has the right personnel on it, designed to meet the client’s means,” he said. “I’m really the face of the firm to the client…to make sure we are delivering what they need to get their project built.”

For Dolan, the degree fit in nicely with his career goals.

“I wanted to get my master’s degree as a career professional development goal. The timing went perfectly because I could get it, finish it, on kind of my own schedule but within two years,” which must have been nice with his busy agenda of deployment, moving and raising a family.

He’s a proud Badger too because of it.

“As a Wisconsinite, I always thought it would be cool to go to my home state school because I’m a big believer in supporting where you live. I like…being able to call myself a Badger.”