For years, Felicia Willis had wanted to resume her education in pursuit of a career move, but raising her young son and working part-time made that difficult.
Then she discovered the wealth of online learning tools that could enable her to get that education without leaving her neighborhood or sacrificing time with her son.
Balancing a Career and Family
Willis grew up in Hollywood, Calif., with her parents, three sisters and two brothers. She started undergraduate studies at Cal State North Ridge in 1995, then transferred into pharmacy school, became a registered pharmacy technician in 2000, and moved to Cincinnati in 2001. There, she worked in a mail order pharmacy, met a partner, and their son, Keishaun Edwards, was born.
In 2004, she moved back home to Hollywood with her son. Since then, she’s been focused on providing for him and helping him grow. To enable her to be there for him, Willis worked part-time with the city government in Palmdale, Calif., beginning in 2007.
Fast forward to 2015, her son in high school and requiring much less supervision, Willis had become interested in moving from her part-time to a full-time position in a different department, but she would need a degree in information systems management. She researched online learning options and found Keller Graduate School of Management. She was intrigued by Keller’s mix of technology-powered learning tools and human faculty who care about each student and their academic outcome.
“I made a goal for myself that something has to change when Keishaun graduates high school and everything just came together how I planned it,” Willis says, ultimately beating that goal by nearly a full year before Keishaun graduates high school this spring. “I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew I wanted more for me: money, independence, success.”
Degree in hand, she partnered with Keller’s Career Services Department to make the move from part-time admin to full-time software analyst. Career Services works closely with students to help them search for the career they want based on the education they’ve earned.
The role of Career Services depends on the needs of the person with whom they’re working, says DeVry/Keller’s director of career services, Eric Hellige. “Most people think working with Career Services is about getting a new job, but it can be about enhancing your current job, especially if you’re underemployed,” Hellige says. “What we do is about career advancement, whatever form that needs to take.” More info on DeVry/Keller Career Services.
Finding the Right Fit
Willis began working with Shannon Rutherford, a senior career advisor in the Career Services Department. “I was driven and eager to succeed,” Willis says. “I knew the IT director and my manager at the time knew I was in school, so when I talked to Shannon, her first suggestion was to ask for an informal interview. I reached out and asked to talk, he agreed, and I learned a lot from that.”
Rutherford partnered closely with Willis in multiple ways: suggesting the informal interview request, working with her to make her LinkedIn account more robust, and honing her interview skills. “ Rutherford says. “[Our work together] was about helping her brainstorm, getting to know her, having conversations. We worked together as a team to figure out her goals and to help her move forward.”
The Career Services team can do a lot of things for graduates, but it comes down to each individual doing the necessary work to make good things happen. “She was very motivated. She never missed an appointment, always following up, on top of communication, so she was a pleasure to work with because she wanted it so bad,” Rutherford says.
Right Tool, Right Job
A big part of that is making sure students are completely fluent in using current technological tools critical to workplace productivity. Toward that end, students and faculty at Keller rely heavily on WebEx, a platform that offers video conferencing, online meetings, webinars, and screen share capabilities, all of which help enable and facilitate online learning.
Similar to Skype when it comes to video conferencing, WebEx is a robust tool DeVry and Keller students utilize throughout their education. “It’s a big way we work with each other and our students and is especially helpful to becoming comfortable with video interviews,” says Rutherford. “In Felicia’s case, there was a huge difference visually seeing her from the first to the second and third practice interviews. She started smiling more, making eye contact, and these are things that matter to interviewers.”
Keller students also use a platform called InterviewStream to prepare for their job search through virtual interviews. Students practice answering critical interview questions, gain familiarity with being interviewed, and also in using the actual tool that some agency recruiters and employers might use to interview them. In addition, InterviewStream records their responses, and the student can then send those to faculty or advisors in Keller’s Career Services department for feedback.
Those advisors also use tech tools to assist in the work they do for students. “We use the O*NET-SOC AutoCoder for résumé development,” Hellige says. “It takes résumé content and assigns it a score based on how well it targets certain occupational codes.” This allows Career Services advisors to help ensure résumés are applicable to the selected industry; helps the student’s résumé stand out within the tracking systems some employers use to scan résumés; and suggests keywords that could make the résumé of graduates like Willis more attractive to prospective employers.
Whether it’s using one of these tools or researching available positions on Hire DeVry, DeVry’s online job board, students like Willis are able to use technology to help get the education they need, and often learn pertinent job skills while doing so.
Right Where She Wants to Be
Things worked out, because Willis got the position she wanted as a software analyst at Avenu Insights & Analytics, and started the job this October. Now, she’s helping manage the back end of the very system she formerly used to do her work for the City of Palmdale. “It’s something I’ve studied, but now I have to deliver it all the time,” she says. “I still study on the weekends. I’m working constantly to improve myself. It still seems like there’s so much to learn.”
Her plan is to continue to improve her skills, learn more about security and servers, and help clients get the software-related answers they need.
She and Rutherford still stay in touch. “Even after that initial interview, she suggested I send a thank you card as a follow up,” Willis says. “All in all, her advice did show my professionalism to the IT director and I think it helped.”
Hellige points out that those in Career Services will do everything they can to help a student find work, but can only do so much. In the end, it’s on the student to get it done. “We don’t have a magic wand at Career Services,” he says. “[Willis] put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this. It was a true partnership that resulted in a positive outcome—which is perfect.”
Looking back, Willis is proud of what she’s accomplished and so is her family.
“My parents always knew I could do it and to finally see me working in the field, they’re just proud of me and overjoyed,” Willis says. “My son has seen me go through all of the schooling, staying up late and studying, and he’s so proud of his mom.
“He’s inspired from what I’ve done.”