There are many reasons behind a professional’s choice to return to their studies. Depending on their own goals and aspirations, an additional qualification might open up certain doors or pathways. Or perhaps there’s simply an urge to learn more about a particular topic or field.
Returning to one’s studies, however, is often challenging when there are other responsibilities — such as work and family — to balance. Enter the University of the Pacific. As the first chartered university in California, it is no stranger to aiding students in their journeys through academia. Today, it’s taking this one step further by offering flexible online programs specifically designed for working professionals — without requiring them to pause their careers.
“I think it’s important that students can pursue these programs on their own time, that it’s designed for that working professional,” says Lindsay Geitzen, a faculty member at Pacific. “This includes students in all different time zones.”
Geitzen acts as program director of the joint Doctor of Medical Science and Doctor of Health Sciences. This accelerated program is tailored for working health science clinicians and educators looking to advance their careers.
“The Doctor of Medical Science program is for physician assistants (PAs), and the Doctor of Health Science is for all other health professionals,” she explains. “This program combines the knowledge of both. Our students take every class together. They engage in online classes together. They learn from each other. They learn about each other’s backgrounds, different professions, and varying levels of experience. It truly does embrace that interprofessional model.”
Unlike most programs of this kind, there is no fieldwork component. In this sense, students are not required to go into a clinical setting to complete their work or attend in-person classes at Pacific. Instead, they are paired with a faculty mentor to work on a research project.
Geitzen says a hands-on approach allows students to thrive in this program, even in a distant setting. This means that all students get the same level of exposure, regardless of whether they’re in a different time zone or not.
“We have optional live sessions offered every week for our students,” she says. “These are for students who like to attend in person and engage with the others in their class. “All of these sessions are recorded. Those who have very busy work schedules or have other commitments can watch the lectures and do the assignments at a time that’s more convenient for them.”
The Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity is devised similarly. “There’s no scheduled lecture time,” explains program director Jeff Schaffer. “There’s no set time where you have to log onto Zoom and watch the professor give a lecture for an hour. Everything is self-paced. There are deadlines as you would find in a traditional college class, but the lab work and hands-on activities over the course of a week are up to you.”
Practical skills are a core focus of the MS Cybersecurity program — and each class is designed around this. “The usual structure of the class is a short introduction from the professor, a quick video followed by keyboard time using software,” says Schaffer. “We also see this heavily in the Capstone design project — which is an open-ended class where students and faculty get together and repose project ideas and then work over the course of the semester to demonstrate their projects and prove their success.”
Pacific’s various online programs span across more than just cybersecurity and the health sciences, of course. The Online Master of Business Administration is structured around giving professionals the skills to thrive as leaders in business. It offers unique concentrations in healthcare, business analytics and finance. Those who encounter legal issues at work can take the Online Master of Science in Law, Business program and learn about how to navigate them — no legal background necessary.
All the while, students are supported by faculty who establish a close, personalized connection from an online format. “We really have that one-on-one component with students,” shares Geitzen. “One way to maintain this is by matching them with a mentor who’s with them throughout the journey. I meet with the students regularly, they’ll have access to my calendar and can put meetings on whenever they like.”
Of course, students can also visit Pacific’s graduate campus in San Francisco for optional on-campus events. Here, they’ll have access to a range of professional activities, such as networking with industry representatives in the Bay Area — alongside many others.
“We have social activities where students have the chance to meet others on their program that they might otherwise only know via their screen name and instant messages,” shares Schaffer. “In the cybersecurity field, we also have in-person technical activities where students can compete against one another in a friendly, supportive environment and develop new technical skills.”
Clearly, it’s an educational experience that puts the student at the forefront — allowing them to determine their own learning according to their own schedules and responsibilities. It’s an incredibly empowering experience — and one that only serves to further their careers, without sacrifice or adjustment.