Mom and Son Celebrate Graduate Degree Success

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Mom and son celebrate their graduation with the text Tara Conrad '21MFA and George Conrad '21MBA

When George Conrad started thinking about going back to school for his MBA, his mom encouraged him to check out Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Tara Conrad was also considering a graduate program, SNHU's online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Mother and son liked what they saw and embarked on their degrees at the same time, knowing they would hit the finish line with their degrees together, too.

Tara said they were looking forward to walking across the stage together at Commencement. She gets emotional talking about it, especially since it won't be a reality this year due to the pandemic. "But that doesn't take away from our accomplishments or the fact we went through the program together," she said.

The two recently donned their graduation regalia and celebrated their achievements as a family. And a celebration it was. Daughter Kayla, a recent associate degree graduate from another institution, wore her regalia, and the whole family was in on the festivities – including two younger siblings who are also online students at SNHU.

Here's how their journey to this special day began.

Getting Down to the Business of Writing

Kayla, Tara and George Conrad celebrate their graduation in their caps and gownsTara wanted to complete an MFA, not only to advance her writing knowledge and skills but also to fulfill a personal goal. She was accepted into several MFA programs and said she chose SNHU's because there were no residency requirements. She's unable to travel and be away from home for extended periods, so this element was essential for her.

"The other reason was the classes SNHU provided that were geared toward the business end of being an author," she said. "SNHU was the only one that also offered education on the business side, something I felt was very important."

With a bachelor's in child psychology, Tara came into the online MFA program with no writing experience. She questioned at first if she belonged in the program upon realizing her classmates were more advanced than she was.

"It took a few classes before I accepted that I had earned my spot in the program and belonged there," Tara said. "Over the past two years…my writing has grown by leaps and bounds." She had several short stories published, with two more to publish this year. Tara finished her novel and has submitted the manuscript to several agents.

Throughout the program, Tara said she met some great people with whom she's made lasting friendships. "The opportunity to go to class alongside people from so many different walks of life is unique to the online environment," she said. As a result, she got feedback on her writing that offered points of view she wouldn't have had access to otherwise.

Tara said the graduate-level marketing course was her most challenging class. "The professor was fantastic and worked with me, so I could take the lessons from the class and apply them to my unique situation as an author starting their own business," she said.

Her thesis classes were overall her favorites – this is where she focused on her romance novel. She attributes much of her growth as a writer to instructor and interim associate dean Paul Witcover, who led three of her courses. "He is one tough professor, but I'm forever grateful for having been his student," Tara said. "I learned so much during those terms. He pushed me past the boundaries I'd erected for myself…I came out of it as a stronger writer. I'm so proud of the manuscript I wrote."

Mastering Business Leadership

George knew he wanted to continue his education, and an MBA focused on where he felt his career path was going. He was also interested in an MBA with a concentration in Leadership. After his mom mentioned checking out SNHU, he "saw they had the program I was interested in and had a great reputation. It fit perfectly with my busy work schedule."

While his employer, a global health services company, was helping to pay for education, George said that affordability was one of the key factors in his decision. He had just gotten a new job with this organization before starting SNHU and realized he had a knack for the business world, another reason driving his desire for an MBA. With an associate and bachelor's degree in human services, George said, "I changed and flipped to the other side of the coin with my MBA."

He found he could bring what he was learning directly into the workplace. George said he began "presenting myself as a leader, and I was able to gain more opportunities at work, and eventually got promoted." He also took what he learned at work and applied it to his course work, creating better papers and ideas for projects.

With his MBA now in hand, George hopes to continue moving up within his company – and he's encouraged others to continue their education with SNHU, too. "Whether or not they are going for an MBA like me or not, I recommend they look at the school for whatever degree they are looking towards."

His encouragement is based on his positive experience -- from regularly interacting with his academic advisor to all that he learned from his instructors and his classmates, too. "It was overall a great experience, and I enjoyed every moment of it," George said.

His mom is equally enthusiastic.

"I would absolutely recommend SNHU's online MFA program to other writers…the program will most certainly help a writer of any skill level hone and develop their craft," Tara said. "It will allow you to get feedback in a safe environment before you venture out into the larger literary world."

That the online MFA taught not only about writing but also about the business world of writing is something she said was "important if you intend on having your works published." She also had an "opportunity to explore the different publishing paths as well as other areas a writer can work, such as freelance editing," something she'd like to explore in the future.

Tara advises anyone who dreams of higher education, whether for a career change, career advancement, or personal growth, to take that leap. "Face those barriers and break through them. You are worth achieving your dreams!"

Pamme Boutselis is a writer and senior content director in higher education. Follow her on Twitter @pammeb or connect on LinkedIn.

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