Employees earn degrees
Photo by Tom Cogill
University of Virginia encourages its employees to take
advantage of the educational
opportunities it offers. Among
those who did are (clockwise from top left) Fay Miller
Ferneyhough, Tim Wilkinson, Rebecca Arrington, Patricia
Slohoda, Katherine Jackson, Jason Van Sant and Wilma Lynch — each
of whom received a degree from U.Va. on May 16.
many as two dozen University employees have earned something
even more significant than a paycheck: a U.Va. degree. When
they walked down the Lawn May 16, each was cloaked in not
just caps and gowns, but in their own personal stories.
Wilkinson manages a computer lab in the Health System these
days, but his path toward the Lawn started when he was the
first band director at Sutherland Middle School. The brand-new
Albemarle County school was outfitted with the latest computer
technology, and Wilkinson immersed himself in it, eventually
becoming the unofficial resident expert.
mindset for music is the same as the mindset for computers,” he
explained, involving decoding and putting things in a logical
came to realize that he enjoyed the computer work more than
music. He took a computer lab job at U.Va. in 1999. Soon after,
he began taking one class per semester toward his master’s
degree in education, which he completed this spring.
was kind of a personal thing. I wanted to do it for myself,” he
said. But the degree also will aid him in his job, as he helps
others incorporate technology into their work. “A lot
of things I learned in my classes apply to what I am doing
now,” he said.
University officially encourages employees to seek more education,
and offers to pay for it in two ways: tuition waivers and tuition
The next “Back to the Books” workshop will be
held July 15, from 8:30 to noon, in Mechanical Engineering
341. It will provide information and tips on handling placement
tests, returning to school, and managing work, home and school.
Representatives from U.Va.’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary
Studies program and Piedmont Virginia Community College will
participate, along with a panel of employee-
students. To register, call 243-5998 or go to www.hrs.virginia.edu/dot.
the tuition waiver program, full- and part-time faculty, classified
staff and Medical Center employees may take one for-credit
class at U.Va. each semester, free of charge. Employees must
receive a passing grade, and make arrangements with their supervisors
for time lost if the class is not job-related. The tuition
reimbursement program allows employees to be reimbursed from
departmental funds for taking job-related courses at any level
of education, from high school to technical schools to graduate
benefits are a tremendous value to employees,” said Emily
Bardeen, director of faculty and staff career services in Human
Resources. She notes that the first $5,250 of educational benefits
an employee receives each year are tax-exempt. “You can
just add that to your bottom line. … Considering that
you might get your U.Va. degree at no charge, that’s
a tremendous deal.”
has been preaching the employee-education gospel since arriving
in June 2001, and her message is finding a receptive audience.
This spring, approximately 175 employees took advantage of
the tuition waiver program, while another 96 took advantage
of tuition reimbursement or assistance programs.
calls her annual “Back to the Books” workshops “probably
my favorites.” They are designed to encourage employees
to resume their academic careers, even long-abandoned ones.
She brings in officials from Piedmont Virginia Community College
to talk about their programs. She brings in peers who are enrolled
at Piedmont, or in U.Va.’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary
Studies Program, or other schools. She invites attendees to
ask any questions they want. “It’s all about possibilities,” she
fear entrance exams, particularly in math, she
noted. The “Back to the Books” panelists are reassuring, Bardeen
said; any math tests are for placement purposes, not entrance requirements.
her first year, about 30 people attended the workshops. Last
year, the number doubled, she said. This spring, 151 employees
attended a series of workshops on educational benefits.
Friedman came to U.Va. three years ago as a marketing and admissions
assistant at the Commerce School. She already had an undergraduate
business degree, but her supervisor, assistant dean of admission
Cyndy Huddleston, urged her to go for a master’s degree
to further her career.
jumped on the opportunity and earned a master’s from
the Curry School of Education, accumulating 30 hours of credit
in just three semesters.
have a very, very understanding and flexible supervisor,” Friedman
said. “I took a lot of night and evening classes. I tried
to take as many 4 p.m. classes as possible.”
really made it work by being dedicated, flexible, and very
conscientious,” Huddleston said.
will walk the Lawn this weekend with her husband, Dan, who
wrapped up his Ph.D. in higher education administration in
supervisors are important, Bardeen said.
are reluctant to allow employees to pursue further education,
fearful of losing them to more challenging work elsewhere,
Bardeen acknowledged. But that’s the wrong way to look
real role of the supervisor is to help develop employees to
their greatest potential,” she said. “Sometimes,
people think the goal is no turnover. No turnover is arguably
worse than too much turnover.”
The University Library, in particular, has been a leader in employee training
and education, Bardeen said.
Cooper joined the library staff in December as associate university
librarian for organizational development. She found a culture
that was different from that of her previous employer.
estimates that as many as three-quarters of the U.Va. library
system’s 210 employees pursue some additional training.
She noted that supervisors routinely include learning programs
as part of the performance review process, and that the library
has a training coordinator.
she worry about training employees who will end up leaving
for a better paycheck somewhere else?
response is that it is important to train the staff and not
take that into consideration,” she said. “If people
move on, it means they’ve grown while they’re here.
We’re not afraid of that.”
Miller Ferneyhough works in Human Resources management systems,
helping crank out the payroll. Back in 1999 — before
she came to the University — she had just wrapped up
an associate’s degree at Lord Fairfax Community College
and was looking for a four-year degree option.
just so happened to be at the exact right time the BIS program
was going to be implemented,” she said. “It was
of Interdisciplinary Studies Program, under the auspices
of U.Va.’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies,
is the University’s first undergraduate degree program
for adult learners. Ferneyhough joined the original entering
class and will graduate with concentrations in business and
did it with three children at home, currently ages 9, 11 and
16. “I study on every baseball field from here to Northern
Virginia,” she said.
BIS program opened in fall 1999, offering classes at night
for part-time, adult students. Applicants must have completed
at least 60 hours of coursework at regionally accredited colleges,
including community colleges, to be eligible, and there are
few limits on the age of those credits.
students receive the same undergraduate degree as traditional
students, with concentrations offered in business, humanities,
and social science, plus the opportunity to develop individualized
was hard getting the message out initially because people absolutely
did not expect the University to take this step,” said
Donna Plasket, who directs the BIS program.
weekend’s graduation will more than double the ranks
of BIS alumni. Before now, 19 people had earned degrees; this
weekend, 28 — including seven current U.Va. employees — will
pick up their diplomas.
Fisher was an assistant to a former Darden
School dean, and
went with him when he left to go into private consulting. When
he later took an out-of-town job, Fisher made a plan.
returned to the Darden School, working for what was then the
Batten Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. As part of her
new job arrangements, she made sure she could take time to
attend classes at PVCC. Once finished there, she enrolled in
the BIS program.
admits to having been a bit “overly obsessive” about
her studies, even with two teen-aged sons at home. But she
also found Darden faculty eager to answer her questions, sometimes
shifting conversations from their offices to classrooms in
order to illustrate finer points on whiteboards.
had the whole building to talk to, and they were always open
to what I needed,” she said. “I owe a lot to the
faculty at Darden.”
completed her degree in December, and already has taken on
greater responsibility. She directs the Batten Institute’s
Batten Fellows program, bringing in business leaders from all
over the world to work with Darden faculty and students.
new degree, or even additional coursework or vocational training,
can give careers a much-needed shot in the arm.
greatest number of employees at the University are classified
in the administrative services group, which is in pay band
3, Bardeen says. To move to a higher pay band, they must find
a new group; to find a new group, “you need some college,” she
doesn’t mean employees are looking to walk down the Lawn
and into a new job. Many grads-to-be stress that they like
working where they are and expect to remain. Their additional
education will only help them do their jobs better, or enable
them to take on new responsibilities.
is this quest for learning, for learning’s sake, that
makes the University special, Bardeen said, and there’s
no reason to reserve it only for 18-year-old high school grads.