Alumnus visits campus for the first time – for graduation
Above: Ryan Hazelwood (right) stands with Professor Jeffery Roesler, Associate Head for Graduate Affairs, in the Newmark Lab crane bay at the Dec. 17, 2016, reception for CEE graduates.
Ryan Hazelwood's (MS 16) first and only visit to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus took place in December 2016, when he graduated with his master's degree in the CEE Online program.
Hazelwood, who earned his bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Utah in 2012, is a Design Engineer in the Structural Engineering and Land Development departments for Ensign Engineering in Utah. After deciding that he needed a master’s degree in order to further develop his career as an engineer, and in particular to move towards a management role, Hazelwood sought out a program that would allow him to learn more about the fields of structural engineering and construction management, but would not require that he move away or leave his position.
“I chose CEE Online because I wanted a top-notch, internationally respected education and I needed a program that fit my life,” Hazelwood said. “I was already engaged and working as an engineer when I chose to go back to school. Leaving my career and attending a well-respected school [would have] meant also uprooting my soon-to-be wife’s life. The online program at [Illinois] offered me the best of both worlds.”
Hazelwood said the array of classes available to him through CEE Online far exceeded the options he would have had if he attended a local university. Additionally, he found that some of his classes had immediate relevancy to his career.
“I was able to take information I learned in the classroom one day, and apply it to my job the next day,” he said.
Students in the online program follow the same lecture schedule and timing for assignments, projects and exams as their on-campus counterparts. To keep up, Hazelwood kept to a strict schedule in order to manage his coursework. He “attended class” in his office every night after dinner, and blocked out time on the weekends for catching up on class videos and homework if needed. If he was traveling, he downloaded lecture videos and watched them while flying or riding in a car. Coordinating meetings with other students was sometimes a challenge, but even that was manageable with technology.
“We just communicated through email and Skype to coordinate projects,” he said. “For me, communicating through email and cloud based documents is more like what I do day-to-day at my job anyway. I didn’t find it an inconvenience.”
Hazelwood’s first and only visit to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus took place in December 2016, for Commencement. His decision to come to campus to attend the graduation ceremony was influenced by a mix of personal and professional reasons. The occasion was meaningful to his family, and the ceremony provided an opportunity for them to gather and celebrate his accomplishment. Additionally, he wanted to use the opportunity to network with the faculty and his peers.
“I knew the names of many of my classmates and professors but had never met them face-to-face,” he said. “Commencement provided a perfect opportunity to introduce myself. Online schooling was great in many ways but it did leave me wanting some of the networking that traditional students experience. Attending commencement was one way for me to fill this void.”
Hazelwood believes that the degree he earned has given him a great foundation — as well as the tools — for a successful career. He said the experience was better than he could have imagined, and he would recommend the program to others — especially to working professionals with supportive employers.
“The only thing I didn’t anticipate was that older professionals didn’t always understand the CEE Online program and how it works,” Hazelwood said. “They often thought that it was ‘at my own pace’ or an off-shoot of the ‘real’ program. Once I explained the program and how the lectures, projects, et cetera, work, they were more appreciative of the program. The key parts I emphasized were the mixing of on-campus and online students in group projects, that I watched lectures that were taped live earlier that day (or week in some cases), and that the requirements, when compared to traditional students, were exactly the same.”
“Sometimes, I would joke that the only difference is that I have an easier commute,” he said.