Susan Thivierge proudly hangs her framed business degree in the living room and thinks of her family. After many hours studying at the kitchen table, she can now say she did it.
“This degree program was something I really wanted to do for personal reasons,” she said. “I want to show my children that learning is lifelong and you can do this at any stage in your life.”
A resident of Port Hope, Ontario, Thivierge graduated last year from Yorkville University’s Bachelor of Business Administration online degree and did it while working full time.
The decision to get her business degree quickly paid off. A few months after she graduated she was promoted to a managerial role in business development at her healthcare organization. Until recently, she had spent 20 years in various administrative roles at SE Health, a not-for-profit that delivers customized health care for people at home and empowers caregivers. Although she enjoyed her work, Thivierge said that she was “looking for a challenge” in her life. She felt a bit stuck at her long-time employer, which is a one-hour commute away in the Greater Toronto Area.
“It really was the chance to try to move up in a different role in my own organization,” said Thivierge. “I happened to be driving to work one day and I heard an advertisement on the radio for Yorkville University.”
Years ago she had taken some college business courses and had done some project management in her career, but she felt she was missing the bigger picture. The fact that Yorkville University offered a completely online BBA degree with no residency requirement appealed to her. Thivierge says she was at first unsure whether to apply. However, she was encouraged five years ago by the senior vice-president of her organization at the time to go for it and take advantage of the company’s tuition assistance program.
The tough part, she said, was carving out approximately 15 hours per week to study. “People today still ask me, ‘So, what are you doing with all of your free time now that you’re not doing your courses anymore?’” she laughed.
“I did struggle a bit in the beginning just trying to balance my work life and my commute to find the day-to-day schedule. But it didn’t take me long to find a way that works for me,” she said.
Thivierge sometimes used her drive to work to do group assignments on a hands-free phone. For certain courses, she would also go online at lunch and during her breaks and check out class discussion posts.
“The program was very much in line with what I was focused on every day, ” she said. “Never having taken university courses before, it helped me be professional in my writing and be able to present myself in presentations, while learning the overarching theory around business.”
Thivierge also recently put to use what she learned in class. She developed a sales department proposal for healthcare services and leaned on her colleagues as resources.
“I needed to understand everything from the financial piece to the HR piece, to the operational piece, and be able to write the communication piece in the proposal itself, ” she said. Her business degree helped her do it, and the fact that she’s “a bit of a perfectionist.”
Overall, she was surprised by the online learning experience:
“I actually really enjoyed it. I found that online learning, for me, was really a great fit. I could fit it with schedule, do it any time, any place as long as I had my laptop.”
Almost anywhere, laughed Thivierge. One time she took her laptop up to the cottage to study. Unfortunately, she realized she had to go find the local administrative office and sit in the parking lot to use the WiFi. Typically setting herself up at the kitchen table, she fit in most of her studying on the weekends and on some evenings. “I had my headset if I needed to do some interactive conversations,” she said. “In the evenings, I took it up into my bedroom for readings.”
Now her husband is “quite happy that I’m not head down into a laptop in the evenings anymore.” To celebrate her graduation, both of them drove out to New Brunswick for her convocation.
“I was so thrilled to be in the same room with the people of the same program, a lot of whom I didn’t know obviously, but it was great to be able to share experiences and realize that the struggle and the challenges that I went through everybody else went through,” she said.
What do Thivierge’s children think of her graduation photos? “They saw the picture of me in my gown and degree in my hand. They were super proud.”