Jeremy Tobias gets up early. Most mornings, he’s having coffee and reading by 5:30 or 6 a.m. He works out—and then the day really gets going. Since fall 2019, he’s been maintaining a full-time job as a project manager and fulfilling his duties for the U.S. Army Reserve while taking courses toward a master’s degree in business analytics through the Whitman School of Management ’s online program. It’s busy, he admits, especially as he is a single parent of a 10-year-old daughter, and the pandemic has added homeschooling duties to the list.
Keeping “all the plates in the air,” as he puts it, is one reason he appreciates the live class component of his master’s program so much. “When I was looking into online options, Syracuse University was differentiated by its live classes,” he says. “I knew that’s what I wanted. Being able to check in on a regular basis with the rest of my classmates and professors helps me hold myself accountable and keep on track.”
Tobias, who was born in Hawai’i but grew up in Central New York, was in his late 20s when he became serious about higher education. After high school, he had decided to join the workforce in the automotive industry rather than pursue a college degree. After five years in that field, however, he was ready for change, and the birth of his daughter in 2010 galvanized him into action.
He enlisted in the Army Reserve, which enabled him to continue working in support of his growing family and also to enroll in college. Military service is something of a tradition in Tobias’s family—both his grandfathers and his father served, and his brother is currently serving in the Army. Within several years, Tobias had graduated from SUNY Oswego with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He then took the position he currently holds as a defense contractor, working on the development and application of research projects.
Tobias was just starting to research online master’s programs when he was deployed to Iraq, where he served as squad leader of an engineering crew focusing primarily on base enhancement and security. His crew built barriers, leveled roads and airstrips, and prepared sites for construction. He knew that, upon his return to the United States, he wanted to build on the range of technical knowledge integral to his military service and his career and add business acumen to his repertoire.
Depth and Relevancy
Syracuse University’s resources and services for veterans and military personnel made the transition to becoming a student as seamless as possible, Tobias says. “I particularly appreciated the direct contact from staff at the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs and the assistance I received accessing my service-connected benefits.”
Now in his third semester, Tobias says the impact this education could have on his future is already becoming evident. In a few months he will transition to a new occupational specialty in the Army Reserve and will work in civil affairs. The principles of effective and persuasive communication that he’s studying will be applicable in this new role, he says. “In a business setting I may be translating data, or the language of computer scientists and engineers, for people who don’t have any familiarity with those fields. But the same basic ideas—making information comprehensible and convincing—apply in community relations as well.”
One of the most meaningful aspects of the program, Tobias says, has emerged from the engagement he’s had with colleagues and professors. “Since the classes are small in size—10 or 12 students usually—the in-class discussions we have and feedback we get can be very valuable,” he explains. These interpersonal connections have also given him the chance to see the professors’ commitment to student success. He recalls a time when, shortly before a deadline, he and classmates working together on a group project discovered issues they couldn’t resolve. They sent a message with questions to their instructor, adjunct professor Shaam Ramamurthy, who is based in India. Although it was the middle of the night for him, Ramamurthy answered within minutes, Tobias says, and clarified the problem so the group could finish the project successfully and on time.
Since the classes are small in size—10 or 12 students usually—the in-class discussions we have and feedback we get can be very valuable.
Tobias says he was particularly impressed by his professors’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it triggered in many students’ lives. For example, although the online program was not impacted in a practical way, Chad Harper, an adjunct professor in the School of Information Studies who was teaching the data management course Tobias was taking, eased deadlines and made adjustments to allow students more flexibility. “Many of us were figuring out how to navigate staying home, loss of childcare, and in some cases layoffs,” Tobias recalls. “It was clear that Professor Harper wanted to make sure we would still be able to learn, and he aimed to reduce the stress points that might be barriers to that.”
“I appreciate structure,” Tobias says, “and I believe it’s important to have lines in the sand to keep things moving. But sometimes you get the best results when you do things on the timing that works best for you.” His own educational journey offers proof.