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For some people who are approaching an age closer to retirement than when they were starting their first job, the idea of pursuing a new career may seem rather daunting. Kenneth Holdorf, 54, Pleasant Prairie, wanted to make sure he had the right tools to take on the challenge.
In order to prepare for what Holdforf says is his third career, the decision to pursue a bachelor's and a master's degree was all about acquiring new knowledge. "I am now updated on the most current knowledge that's out there," he said.
Holdorf's first career spanned 20 years in the U.S. Navy. His second career, 10 years, was with the law firm of R&B Solutions in Waukegan, Ill. He completed his bachelor of arts degree at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in December 2012 majoring in business management with a concentration in human-resource management.
Holdorf knew he wanted to add a master's degree to his resume and first thought about political science. Dr. Peggy James, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies at UW-Parkside, encouraged Holdorf to contact Geosciences Professor Dr. John Skalbeck and explore a new master of science degree in sustainable management offered online. The program is a collaboration with four other UW System institutions through UW-Extension.
In December, Holdorf participated in Parkside's Winter Commencement after completing the degree requirements in August and become the first UW-Parkside student to earn the online sustainable management master's degree.Holdorf says the combination of business management with sustainable management gives him a better understanding of what businesses might do to affect the environment and what it takes to be a good corporate citizen. "I have always been interested in what negatively or positively affects the environment," he said.
While an online program may not be for everyone, Holdorf says it suited him. "As a nontraditional student, it gave me more flexibility," he said. The flexibility of an online degree program allows students to access the Parkside Desire2Learn (D2L) course website, look up homework assignments, participate in class discussions – even connect with classmates – 24/7.
"Everything that is provided in the physical classroom is provided online," Holdorf said. Much like a traditional on-campus classroom, the online experience includes the opportunity to meet and learn with students from outside southeastern Wisconsin. "I had classmates from all the schools that are involved with the sustainable management program," Holdorf said. "There were also students from Minnesota and one who was living in Texas."
The D2L class roster shows which students are online. "We would bounce papers back and forth and tell other classmates to review the work," Holdorf said. The online format includes interaction with classmates, the ability to participate in discussions with the professor, and the flexibility to study at various times of the day. But Holdorf cautions that online students must be self-motivated.
"You have to be able to set a time when you go to the course website," he said. "There are time frames and time lines that must be met. Good time management is a big part of being successful in an online course."
An online course even offers opportunities not always available in a more traditional on-campus classroom. Students can post questions for the professor; something Holdorf compares to asking a question in class – the online version of raising your hand. Class participation is often measured by replies to discussion topics. And some professors will also ask for reaction to the replies of other students. It's the professors' way of having students learn from each other.
"The weekly discussions included in most online courses create a very rich environment for student learning," Skalbeck said. "The students in this program have a wealth of life experience and perspective that they share with fellow classmates, and the online format encourages strong engagement."
(l to r) Dean Emmanuel Otu, Kenneth Holdorf, Dr. John Skalbeck
Since Holdorf resides near the Parkside campus, he was often able to meet face to face with Skalbeck to discuss his degree progress and his capstone project which, Skalbeck says, has exciting prospects for sustainable elder care.
Because the concepts of sustainability may not yet be well understood throughout corporations and organizations, the ability to communicate the principles, actions, and results is important. Holdorf said the program demands a lot of writing. Skalbeck says that is by design. "Strong writing skills are vital for the success of every sustainable management graduate," Skalbeck said. "Which is why I designed my course on the natural environment to be focused on technical writing."
As for Holdorf's third career, it starts with a three-month internship at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Where it goes from there, Holdorf is unsure. One thing is certain: He's equipped with today's most current knowledge.