Georgia on my mind

When I went to college in the fall of 1998, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. I graduated from high school with top grades and a scholarship at BYU, so the world was my oyster. But choosing a major was hard. I knew I wanted to make a lot of money, so that my wife could be at home with our children if she so desired, so anything in the humanities was out. I was good at math and science, so I figured, why not become an electrical engineer? A few people I knew back in Wisconsin were EE’s, and they seemed to live rather well, so I decided that could be me as well.

It took about a month and a half before I allowed myself to accept the very real possibility that EE was not a good fit for me. I took classes with people who were building robots when they were three. But I allowed myself to struggle on into my second semester of coursework, where some pretty poor grades gave me great cause to reconsider my career path. Because of a pending mission to South Africa, I would have two years to do some deep thinking.

Early on in my mission I found my calling: to teach full-time in the Church Educational System. Oh, I knew it would not be a lucrative life, but I loved studying and teaching the gospel more than anything else in the world. And others told me I was very, very good at it.

Unlike electrical engineering, which I avoided studying at any and every opportunity, I loved nothing more than studying the scriptures, reading books and talks by General Authorities, and imparting my knowledge and the Spirit to others. I thought about it all the time. I decided to pursue religious education as a career goal, and throughout my mission I felt the approbation and guidance of heaven in pursuit of this end.

Unfortunately, BYU (thankfully) does not offer a major in Religious Education. So I chose to get into Near Eastern Studies, thinking that knowledge of Middle Eastern language, history, and culture would serve me well in the classroom. I enrolled in Arabic courses, learned about Islam and politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and took the introductory courses BYU offered in preparing to become a full-time CES instructor (they’re elective courses preparatory to that specific career path, for those who are serious about going that direction). I loathed the Arabic (actually, I think my mind doesn’t do well with foreign languages, period), got through the history and political science stuff, but loved every single second of those introductory CES classes. I even got a chance to teach at a release-time seminary in Orem, Utah, for two full weeks. It was great – I loved being with those ninth-graders every morning.

All of my positive experiences over the course of four years made the eventual rejection letter all the more discouraging. In reality, the odds weren’t all that great: there were 66 students competing for only 6 one-year student teaching slots. But it was still very, very difficult for me. I received the letter while visiting my family at Christmastime in 2003. We knew that Cassia was pregnant with Jonathan by that time, so I knew the time was quickly forthcoming when I would assume the role of sole breadwinner for the family. Suddenly, with no immediate career prospects and zero love for the material I studied for my major, I went into a tailspin. I was very depressed for about a month. I couldn’t understand why God had "led me on" for so many years if the whole effort would be for naught. (Don’t worry – I’ve since been able to put it all into perspective – but I do not believe my experiences are atypical of what even well-adjusted, faithful people go through when they feel the rug swept out from underneath them.)

Beginning in February 2004, I began to look at continuing my education with a degree in another field. I had been working as a webmaster at my place of employment for several months, and I was familiar with computers from an early age, so gaining a Masters degree in Information Systems Management from the Marriott School (BYU’s business school) looked like a slam dunk. I spent the next year straddling two different worlds: finishing my senior capstone course in Near Eastern Studies by day, taking the required prerequisite courses for the MISM program and preparing for the GMAT exam by afternoon and night. When I did well on the GMAT, I received an e-mail from Paul Lowry in the Information Systems department pitching the idea of getting into a "PhD Prep track" as part of the MISM. Cassia and I researched the prospect of going "all the way" for a doctorate degree. It involved teaching, which I loved, and it also involved research, which I was willing to try out. After some discussion and prayer, we both felt it was the right path for us to take. Before I even graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Studies, we were committed to getting a PhD in Information Systems.

It’s not the usual path most people take, and I go into all this detail so that everyone understands that getting a doctorate is not something we decided to do on the spur of the moment, or because we were bored and had nothing else better we wanted to do. This has been the end game for over two years now. We’re going into this with our eyes open.

Now, a lot has happened since I began my graduate program in August 2005. The courses and pacing of the last 18 months have been rigorous. I’ve become well-entrenched in research, and co-authored a paper that is now in the second round of review at a well-respected IS journal. I’m currently teaching a senior capstone course in Web consulting and projects, and will do it again in the Spring 2007 term. I retook the GMAT in August 2006 to make myself more competitive when applying to doctoral programs. I applied to six schools in November-December 2006. I visited three schools in February-March 2007, and had two phone interviews with a fourth. And on March 13, after much contemplation and prayer, I accepted an offer of admission to the PhD program in Computer Information Systems at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, to work with some of the best IS researchers in the world. We’re excited to announce it!

It’s a time of great change for our young family. But we know that this is the right path for us. We have learned through experience (much of it painful and difficult, but also joyous and exhilarating) the truth of these words: "Whenever one door closes, another one always opens."

This is our door, our opportunity. Thanks be to our Heavenly Father for it.

3 Responses to “Georgia on my mind”

  1. YAY! Congrats you guys! What a relief it must be to finally know where you’re headed :)

    And thanks for the Windows Live Writer tip. It’ll come in handy when I quit writing blogs from work and must resort to our “fantastic” internet service from home.

  2. I’m so happy for you guys!!! That’s exciting. Except I’m sad you guys are moving so far away. oh well. Life’s that way. Good Luck.

  3. That sounds wonderful. I am so proud of you. Living in the South should be quite an experience. I had a friend who lived there for a while and loved it. It is far away, but we still are happy for you. Love, Gramma

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