My College Story: Feeling Accomplished after Earning Three Degrees

Adam Daniels' College Story

Adam Daniels

Adam Daniels graduated from high school without feeling much sense of achievement; going to college had always been expected of him, so there wasn’t much exciting about actually finishing high school. That missing sense of achievement came later, when he graduated from the University of Kentucky after studying finance and management, the University of Cincinnati after earning his MBA, and the University of Cincinnati (yes, again!) after earning his master’s in information systems.

Q. Did you always know that you were going to go to college?

I did. Going to college was never really presented as an optional task for me or my brother. My parents raised us both to believe that college was where our next steps were and that it was an expectation rather than a surprising achievement. I think that was one of the factors that made high school graduation somewhat dulled. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed high school graduation and all the fun activities that went with it, but I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything significant because I was simply achieving what I was always expected to achieve.

Q. How did you choose your college? What did you like about that school over others?

I had no intention of going to Kentucky. While I had considered going to Louisville, I had always assumed I would go to Western Kentucky University like both of my parents and my older brother. I knew I had a scholarship to several in-state schools, and I had been raised with the belief that there wasn’t much financial value in going to an out-of-state school not named Harvard or Yale (and I was well aware that those two were also not part of my future). Given all of this, I figured I would just submit an application to Western and move on with that part of my life.

My mom encouraged me, however, to embrace the time of life I was in and to go see a few other options. So I took campus tours at Western, Louisville, and Kentucky. When I took the tour at Western, I loved the campus. I had always thought it was a great campus for college students and I liked Bowling Green, but the tour made the business school seem like an afterthought. While I don’t doubt that Western has a good business program, it just didn’t sit well with me. When I got to the Kentucky tour, however, I absolutely felt at home on the campus and loved the innovative programs that were discussed. I loved that it truly felt like I was on a college campus that was separate from the city, but also was a part of a sizable city that didn’t shut down at the end of each semester.

Q. Did you receive any scholarships?

In my junior year of high school I applied and got accepted to the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program. By attending this program, I earned a full-tuition scholarship to various schools in Kentucky, including UK. [As part of] this program, I was given the opportunity to live at Centre College for five weeks over the summer in an environment that focused on academic and cultural enrichment. I know that description sounds like the brochure for a summer camp, but this is one of the few times where I actually feel like it fits. I was placed in an environment with people my own age who were absolutely brilliant. While the program did not have grades or offer credit of any kind, we all had a specific academic focus area and spent significant time studying that subject. My focus area, for example, was the Supreme Court. [Governor’s Scholars Program] was a tremendous experience because it created a very free environment for discussion and learning. Being able to research and learn about a topic without having to focus on how I would be tested on it was a great experience.

On a lighter side, I also received a small scholarship for having an interest in coal mining. While I was not planning to go into coal mining after college, I had an interest in any field that would give me a job and I was also interested in any field that was willing to give me a scholarship.

Q. What's one piece of advice you wish you had before applying to college?

Studying is better than memorizing. I have had good grades at all levels of my education. While some of this I attribute to being reasonably intelligent, some of it is also attributable to being good at gaming grades. I am good at taking tests and figuring out what the grader wants to see. However, my studying habits were inefficient to say the least. I spent so much time in both high school and college memorizing rather than processing and understanding the material. This led me to spend so much more time having to study and prepare because I would essentially find myself reading the chapters in the book two or three times in the days before an exam simply so I would have the material somewhat memorized. While this got me through the exam, it was certainly a lot of wasted effort and time. Think smarter, not harder.

Q. What did you find to be the biggest challenge when transitioning from high school to college?

The biggest challenge I faced was in finding my group. I didn’t have much of an issue with adjusting to the higher academic challenges of college and adjusting to a roommate wasn’t that big of an issue either. Finding a group of people that I could be friends with and grow with was a huge challenge for me, though. While I don’t have anything against the Greek system, which has a significant presence at Kentucky, I didn’t feel like that was my place. I also had very few friends from high school that came to UK, which essentially meant I started out on my own.

My faith has always been very important to me, so I naturally tried various campus ministries. While it took me a few months, I eventually found my way to the Baptist Campus Ministry, which quickly became my second home while I was in school. Though I certainly think the faith element was important, the BCM also helped me find a group of people to get close to. Since it had a building on campus, that became the place I would spend time between classes or when I was simply bored; it was a gathering place. If I hadn’t found that group, I think college would have been much more difficult.

Q. If you could go back and do one thing differently in college, what would it be? Why?

While there are certainly moments in college that I look back on cringing, I really don’t think I would change anything. I know this sounds cheesy, but my mistakes and dumb decisions in college taught me so much and helped me become who I am now. My dumb decisions taught me that first impressions truly can stick with people for years. I learned that you can’t rush into relationships and that you can’t force friendships. These were, at the time, painful lessons. Looking back, though, I don’t know that I would have really learned them without experiencing them.

Q. What was your favorite experience in college?

My favorite thing had to be moving out on my own into both the dorm room and the apartment I lived in after freshman year. Being completely responsible for my living situation on a day-to-day basis truly helped me grow as a person. While my parents had always tried to help me become independent, I don’t know that you can really simulate and fully prepare for the first time you are living with a roommate in a dorm or apartment.

Q. What was the greatest lesson you learned from your education?

While I didn’t fully understand this until I was working on my master’s, it was something that greatly changed how I viewed that work: there is a huge difference between academic theory and real-world application. I earned both my MBA and MSIS at night while working full-time in my career. This meant that my classes had a mix of both part-time and full-time students as well as adjunct and tenured professors. Since my MBA lectures tended to be very discussion based, I quickly was able to identify which of the students in the course were part-time students, and which were full-time students who had come straight from undergrad. The reason for this was that those who were part-time students working career jobs gave much more realistic answers to questions posed in the classroom. Full-time students straight out of undergrad, however, gave answers based heavily on the academic theories being taught, but that don’t usually play out in the real world.

While it was not surprising to me to see this distinction amongst the students, I was amazed to quickly begin identifying it amongst the professors. I learned so much more from my adjunct professors who came to class from working a full-time job than I ever did listening to the tenured professors who had never worked outside of academia. Learning the difference between academic theory and career realities completely changed the way I looked at my education and the way I approached the new material being taught.

Q. Did you work during college? What positions? Do you feel like you were adequately prepared to enter "the real world?"

Coming out of high school I was given a great opportunity to work at a hospital in Louisville. While I had worked previously in a part-time role at a gym, this was the first time I was in what I considered to be a legitimate adult job. I worked eight-hour shifts with people twice my age and was expected to do more than simply check people into the gym. While the job was supposed to be a three-month job before I went off to college, it became a lot more than that. I started by working as an admin in the lab. I would sign patients in and handle the associated paperwork. Given that I was half the age of my coworkers, I initially was very careful with everything I did and worked as hard as possible to prove I belonged. As it turns out, my boss noticed.

Within a week of working there, she told me she wanted to make the job last more than three months by having me work weekends during the school year. This would allow me to come back with full-time hours each summer. I ended up working at the hospital for four years and learning how to draw blood, prep blood for testing, and be responsible for far more than I thought I ever would be at 18. Working at the hospital taught me a tremendous amount about how to work in the real world. I learned how much effort is noticed and how being the person willing to take on extra hours can help set you apart from your peers. I also learned that company politics are very real. Overall, I could not have asked for better preparation for a career after college.

Q. What is your current career and how did your education prepare you for your position?

I am currently an IT Consultant with Sogeti USA, a consulting firm based in Dayton, OH. While I had no plans of working in IT, I am very happy to be in the field and enjoy what I do.

Coming out of college I used my finance degree by working as a commercial loan analyst at a small community bank in Cincinnati. Shortly after, I found myself working on the finance team of Sogeti. After working in that role for a year, I was asked by my company’s CEO to work under him as his assistant. This was an amazing mentorship experience that taught me how to lead and work with people. It also taught me that proving to someone that they can trust you with the little things will go far in helping them trust you with bigger things.

While working in this role, I worked on my MBA and MSIS. As I learned more about the industry, I realized I could add value by being someone that could easily interact with both IT professionals and finance teams. I recognized the need for this because of an experience I had during college: In my time at UK I participated in a new program they called the Scholars in Engineering and Management Program. The program focused on teaching business and engineering students how to interact and about each other’s processes. Through the program, I took engineering-focused courses, and I had engineering students in my finance and accounting classes. This program taught me that so many areas within a company struggle to interact and understand one another. There will always be a need for someone that can be an interpreter between multiple areas of an organization.

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