I left college without finishing my degree. 25 years later, Avanade supported me in getting my bachelor’s.

  • Posted on July 28, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
I left college without finishing my degree. 25 years later, Avanade supported me in getting my bachelor’s.

In May, I achieved something that made me both proud and a little relieved: I finally earned my Bachelor of Arts from the University of Maine.

I started my college career at UMaine in 1992 when I was young, fun loving and not focused on school. I left after two years with barely a 2.1 GPA after excelling through high school. I went to work waitressing, and then in a factory. While I was there, I applied to an internal job posting, and an accountant took a chance on me - offered me the chance to work as a mailroom and accounting clerk. I worked hard and never said no to a chance to reach beyond my skill set or take on something new. That clerk position led to supply chain, to project management and eventually to IT consulting and leadership. Which brings me to today, over two years into my career at Avanade as the North American Manufacturing Industry lead for business applications.

But why go back to school if I’ve managed a 25-year career without my degree? I just hated feeling like I had left something undone. I’ve never considered myself a quitter, but in fact, I had quit. I’d actually gone back to school a couple times, when my kids were small, but working full time and small children at home and taking on campus classes felt impossible; I never stuck it out. But my parents and I had had invested both financially and emotionally in my college education and I wanted to finish to justify their investment in me. My parents never chastised me for not finishing school, but I wanted them to know their investment mattered.

Technology has changed what online degrees mean too. I have nothing against traditional online degrees, but in the last 5-10 years, almost all universities started offering an online track for many programs. I am very proud of my Maine heritage and being a University of Maine Black Bear where I started college back in 1992 and being able to earn my degree from my school was a driver for me. I’d already earned my Associates in IT at another school, and with transferring some credits I was only a couple years away. With online coursework and grown children, I had no reason but self-limiting doubts not to finish.

I’m able to bring some new knowledge and skills back to my own role at Avanade as well. While in school, it really hit me how much the youngest generations are just completely embedded in technology. They don’t recall a time when everyone didn’t have a phone, a PC, cameras everywhere, etc, and playing games online has always been a part of their life. So, I found myself reflecting on how we take this younger generation to careers on the shop floor. Manufacturing skills in the U.S. are not being backfilled at the rate of retirement. Growth in this industry in the U.S. means that these jobs need to appeal to young people and bringing their life experience of technology and online experiences onto the shop floor is important. Bring on the HoloLens!

Something I think is important, and something I’m very thankful for, is that Avanade did not take a “degree required” stance on entering the company or advancing with my experience and results. I took a very curvy path to my current career with some hills and peaks and valleys. Being a woman, in Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Construction, IT—oh, and not having a degree—made me scrappy and unafraid of hard work. It also gave me an open mind to others that may have a non-traditional path in our industry and to cast a broad net with regards to everyone’s growth potential. I work in technology, but I’m not super tech savvy; I’m manufacturing savvy, and so I reflect on and utilize the experiences I have working on a shop floor and being a clerk early in my career as I’m speaking with manufacturing companies today.

Most importantly, I’ve been blessed with mostly great leaders throughout my career. The importance of being a leader that teaches, and helps their team reach their next, is not lost on me. There were a couple times in my career I did not have a good boss and having worked for great people, I was able to recognize that I was stagnant or on a plateau and found a way to move on and out of that.  So often, I’ve been the new person in a position, as I am now just six months as an Industry Lead. There’s real power in acknowledging you don’t know how to do something, acknowledging your new-ness, and willingness to learn. Most people love to teach and mentor…let them. There are many people at Avanade have taught me so much ….the Avanade way, but also servant leadership. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by this team here and watching them, I’m highly cognizant that I still have much to learn, and also have my own responsibility to be a good mentor and teach others. That’s a humbling but also empowering thought. I’m still hungry to learn more.

There was a time that I might have been a bit embarrassed to stand in front of a client as a manufacturing leader and not have a degree credential. Years ago, I realized that non-traditional path to success molded who I am more than any course or book, and I’m grateful to companies like Avanade that saw my potential and experience as drivers to success. Bring on the next challenge!

David Huether

Motivational story at every level!

August 9, 2021

Ann Auerbach


August 3, 2021

Tina Revelant

Thank you Jennifer - what a great read.  My son is in your shoes and I sometimes struggle with how to best coach him.  He suffers from ADD and school was just not his thing but yet his IQ is off the charts.  In this tough market and post pandemic on the horizon not sure what the future holds for him but your email makes my heart feel better and hopeful for him!

August 2, 2021

Dave Medd

Jen - your story is amazing and I couldn't be more impressed with the work you have done and continue to do here.  Thanks for sharing the story!

July 29, 2021

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