Owen Harmon

"I didn't pay attention to her initially," the 38-year old says of his mother's advice. "I learned later she was right."

Owen, a recent graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University where he earned his Master of Business Administration degree, is very glad he listened to his mom. Earning his degree not only made his mother very proud, it brought immediate rewards.

He had matured in his previous position with a global investment firm and wanted to move into business development. In jockeying for the new job, he indicated that he was pursuing a degree. The fact that he was an MBA candidate put him over the top, he believes.

He got the job, relocated from the West Coast to Georgia and joined a team of three that opened a regional office for his company. And he did it all while going to school on-line.

"Neither of my parents went to college. Though," he marvels, "they were pretty successful without credentials."

He earned his bachelor's in Accounting from the University of Liberia in 1988. Still his mother always wanted him to get a graduate degree. He did not even consider going straight to grad school.

"I was young. I wasn't focused on going back to school. I had a decent job for the time." His mother made him promise. Yet he didn't make plans to fulfill that promise until he was married with a family.

"It [the degree] earned me a sizable salary increase and bonus," he says.

He made the decision to return to school on-line as opposed to in a traditional classroom setting so that he could remain a part of daily family life.

The father of two admits that going to school did take a considerable amount of time.

But, he notes, "It wasn't as bad as commuting—being physically gone for five to six hours at a time." The freedom to work at home was invaluable.

"I was there at least physically."

His entire family was supportive of his efforts.

"My wife was understanding when she knew I needed to get some work done," he says. "My son was starting school at the time so he had homework, too. He could relate."

He credits his sister with being a team player as well. When it was "crunch time" she offered up her place. "[I could] take off for a day or a weekend to buckle down."

His strategy for success was perfected over the course of his studies. He has this advice for any on-line student, "Pace yourself."

"You can't take time for granted," he warns. "You can lose weeks."

He recommends students do whatever is necessary to stay abreast of the reading, post a comment, then wait two days for responses to come in before posting again.

"I know people who didn't do any work for a month," he says incredulously. "It was too late. They had to drop the class. They'd lost too much ground."

His office environment was particularly conducive to keeping up with schoolwork. Though he is extremely busy covering a region that includes Texas, Florida and up to Virginia, he is flexible.

"We make our own hours. It's a soft schedule." His extensive business travel afforded ample opportunity to catch up on work after hours, so that when he returned home he was able to spend time with his family.

His efficiency, and the ability to stay on task, came in handy when he had to make the third big move of his life while attending school.

His first was at age 12 when his family was forced to flee Liberia after tensions between Americans and the indigenous people resulted in a coup d'état. He graduated from high school in the United States and attended St. John's University before it was deemed safe enough to return. He came back to the States after college graduation to take advantage of better opportunities, though he eventually wants to return to West Africa.

His last move was very different though. He changed geographic locale, but he did not have to change schools.

The fully on-line degree program enabled him to achieve his goals despite the demands of his personal and professional life. "There was no residency requirement," he says of his alma mater.

"It was truly cyberlearning. With my business travel schedule, there was no way I would have been able to attend class even once a week."

Amid boxes, bubble wrap, and packing tape, he kept up with the workload. "I would move something, take a break, and log on," he remembers.

"As long as you have books, which are often accessible on-line, location is not a problem," he says of going to school while traveling for business and relocating. "I even made a couple of trips to Africa without missing a beat."

"It [the transition] was so seamless. Hey, I might get another degree," he quips.

Given all the frequent flyer miles he logged it is a wonder his travels never took him to the university. "I literally did not see the campus until I graduated."

The structure and flexibility of the program were two things that attracted him to Indiana Wesleyan.

"It's not a top 10 business school," he admits. Nevertheless, "I made the right choice as far as schools are concerned."

"I did a great deal of online research," he affirms. "The school got a lot of high marks." He describes the university as a Christian-based school. "I appreciated the values that come along with their way of teaching."

He cites the scandals of Enron and others as incidents that made the corporate world, he feels, broaden its hiring criteria. "Companies are looking for people with integrity," he asserts. "They've realized the importance of people with values."

Still, being on the leading edge is ever important. "You've got to keep up—stay competitive."

He has no regrets about earning his Master of Business Administration degree online.

"All major universities are starting to offer on-line programs. It is becoming an acceptable way to be educated."


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