Hannah McGary is a Champlain College Online student studying accounting. She is expected to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in August 2022.
What was your motivation for going back to school?
I graduated from the University of Vermont (UVM) with my bachelor’s degree in biology and genetics back in 2013. From there, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career. I knew that if I chose to pursue a science-related career, I would need to continue my education with a graduate program. Even after graduating, I didn’t feel particularly connected to biology, and so I decided that I was not ready to commit to a master’s degree at that time.
Thereafter, I moved from Vermont to Wyoming, where I began working at Teton Science Schools (TSS), a nonprofit in Jackson, Wyoming. I worked as an executive assistant for one of their schools for two years before I shifted to their accounting department. As it turned out, I really liked accounting, despite the fact that I didn’t love past accounting courses I had taken. I quickly grew to enjoy the work experience I was gaining and realized it was a natural fit for me.
I soon became interested in why I loved what I was doing so much and realized that if I wanted to pursue accounting careers outside of TSS, I would need to have a degree. I fell into this particular role because I knew people, but if I wanted to change employers or move around at any point, I would need the subject matter expertise and credentials necessary to do so.
Funnily enough, I had taken a class at Champlain College years ago, so I knew of Champlain when I started looking into accounting programs. Champlain College Online ended up accepting many of my transfer credits, especially many electives, and so I was able to transfer enough credits to accelerate the time it would take me to earn a bachelor’s in accounting.
Tell us about your experience with your advisor, instructors, and/or classmates.
I can’t say enough wonderful things about my academic advisor, Becky. I often joke that she is my Champlain mom, as she consistently checks up on me, reviews my grades, and drops notes now and again just to make sure I am doing okay. Becky is my go-to person at Champlain if I need to access specific resources, like financial aid assistance, so I can get the help I need to stay on track. She helps me stay engaged in my program and I feel like I want to work harder than ever before to impress her. I have never had such a positive experience with an advisor before. I 100% feel supported by Becky and believe she has my best interests in mind. In fact, when I told her that I needed to cut back on my course load due to having a baby, she helped me prioritize what classes I should stick with and what I could move to another term so that I could have a lighter schedule while still staying on pace to finish my degree on time.
In addition to my advisor, my professors have all been wonderful so far as well. Even though everything is online and we don’t have live virtual classes, I feel like the communication is always consistently positive and fast. I get responses to emails within 24 hours.
Ginger Devine is probably one of my favorite professors. She leads a business law class I am currently taking and she has been amazingly flexible while also still having high expectations from my work. There have been a few times when I wanted to deliver my work in a different format than what was asked of me, and I reached out to Professor Devine about the format I preferred to deliver the work in, and she told me I could do it however I needed to as long as I completed the assignment correctly. This flexibility is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It helps me stay engaged in my program and really makes me feel like I am in the driver’s seat, doing my work in a way I feel is manageable for me.
Finally, I want to share that the student peers I have worked with at Champlain are also very wonderful. I haven’t had many group projects so far, but there is one I can think of that I was part of this semester that actually ended up being more successful than group projects I have participated in in past lives. My peers have been very responsive and communication has been effortless. We’re all great at keeping each other in the loop and dividing and conquering the work fairly across all group members. In my opinion, group engagement online has been higher than any experience I have had in an in-person classroom.
What, in your opinion, makes Champlain unique?
I’m really appreciating how connected the Champlain community really is. I don’t feel like I’m just a number or just another random name on a roster. My advisor and professors have all made me feel seen, heard, and valued. Everyone I’ve worked with or encountered seems to know who I am. They all work to help me, support me, and make me feel like my education and career goals matter to them.
The connection and support within the Champlain community have made a huge difference in my engagement in my program. My grades are strong, I care about the work I put into my assignments, and I am much more conscious about my time and effort. I actually feel compelled to impress my advisor and professors because I feel strongly that they want to see me succeed.
What do you do for work?
I moved to North Carolina about two years ago now, but I still work for TSS in Wyoming. Right now, I am remotely working as a finance administrator in their finance department. The work experience I have gained there over the years has shown me that I actually would love to do what my boss does – which would involve me becoming a financial controller. That’s the ultimate goal!
How do your courses relate to your work?
My accounting classes definitely relate to my real work experience. I am learning in class about the reports and tasks I actually do in real life. There are so many connections between the work I am doing in school and the work I do in my job, and it’s really interesting to watch these connections show up on a daily basis. It definitely brings an awareness that the content Champlain teaches is applicable to the workplace from day one.
I’m currently learning about organizational behavior and the content relates a lot to how my employer, TSS, operates. TSS is big about culture and it’s been interesting to learn in my courses about how companies can affect culture change and then relate it to the process I’ve lived through with TSS working to rebrand and create a more inclusive culture over the past five years.
How do you make online learning work for you?
The flexibility of Champlain’s online programs makes it pretty easy for me to be successful. I work 40 hours per week and I’m a new mom, so having the flexibility to log into my assignments whenever works best for me is what has made this process so realistic for my schedule.
I work whenever I can and I like to make sure I submit my assignments well before the deadlines. My professors usually open assignments a few days in advance. So, for example, I know my discussion posts are due on Wednesdays, and I give myself a hard stop of Tuesday (sometimes even Monday) to make sure my work is complete and uploaded. Life happens, and with a job and a baby, I like the convenience of getting my work done before it’s actually due.
I would not be able to be in school right now if my program had a rigid schedule. I think about programs that run on specific days/times, or require participation at a specific time, and I know that structure would not work for me. Any new mom will tell you that babies don’t run on a set schedule so I don’t know if I would be able to take classes – even online ones – if I had set class times that required “attendance” at certain times.
I truly love my accounting degree program. I really enjoy learning new things and Champlain has been incredibly supportive in that venture for me. The way my online classes are delivered has made it possible for me to balance work, motherhood, and being a student. I get to do more things in my life and I am so thankful and so impressed with this program.
What advice would you give to someone considering going back to school at Champlain?
For adults like me, who have a large gap between when they first went to school and where they are now, they probably have a better idea of who they are later in life and what they want to do from here. I know that’s true for me. I think about how I went to school years ago to pursue biology with no real sense of where that degree was going to take me, and I now know I am much more interested in accounting. It pains me a little to think about my biology degree sitting in my garage collecting dust, but I just didn’t know what I wanted out of life back then and now I do.
I would advise others not to jump into a large institution and flounder your way through a program just to get a degree that will collect dust. Know yourself. Think about what you want to study, what kind of learner you are, and make sure you have the right support system in place to talk to people about your career goals.
The Champlain community has been absolutely wonderful to me. I know that when I have questions, I get answers. I know who to reach out to for support. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to need to make connections with the staff to get the help and guidance you need to get to the finish line. I feel empowered to talk to anyone at Champlain and I bet if you decide to go here, you’ll feel the same. Having a sense of community is so meaningful and impactful. It’s made all the difference.