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Dream Big

Students piece together new careers and directions at the School of Continuing Studies.

by Sean Hargadon

If the School of Continuing Studies were a stock, you'd want to buy now.

Just ask Franz Paul. The Chicago equity options trader knows a good investment when he sees one. "I'm pretty bullish on what's happening at SCS," he says.

Paul (SCS07), who recently wrapped up his undergraduate degree in economics, started his collegiate career more than 10 years ago at the University of Michigan, but he left school when his family encountered some severe unexpected financial difficulties. He went off to work in Chicago's financial industry without a degree.

"I had a relative in Chicago," Paul says. "I slept on a couch for a couple of years. I started at a small firm working as a clerk, and I worked up to trade for them. But I knew if I wanted to go deeper into the financial industry, I had to finish my degree.

"Then I saw an advertisement for the School of Continuing Studies. What really attracted me, first, was the Northwestern name. Second, was the fact that the program mirrored the traditional undergraduate program. I thought, 'This feels legitimate.'"

Paul enrolled in fall 2002, but two years later he and his wife, Jessica, moved to Washington, D.C., to be closer to her family in northern Virginia. Nine months later they came back to Chicago, in part so he could complete his degree at SCS.

"Looking at other schools, my questions were well framed," says Paul, who recently wrapped up a term as SCS's Student Advisory Board president. "The School of Continuing Studies is so much farther down the road in its development. These other schools are years, if not decades, behind SCS."

Take note: The School of Continuing Studies has shed the traditional notion of night school and become a national player in the adult education market.

Founded nearly 75 years ago as University College on Northwestern's Chicago campus, the School of Continuing Studies is today an energetic hub of educational opportunity. With class offerings on both Northwestern campuses, it's a one-stop shop where students can pick up an undergraduate degree in one of 19 disciplines, enroll in one of eight master's degrees, create a foundation for a career change with a noncredit certificate, beef up a resume with a personalized professional development program or simply stimulate the brain. SCS is also home to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, formerly known as the Institute for Learning in Retirement, where mature adults enjoy peer-led discussions, and the Center for Public Safety, a professional development institute for law enforcement and public safety officers.

"There is a time-warp perspective for individuals who would have known this school at any other time in its history," says Thomas Gibbons, who has led the school's transformation in his five years as dean.

When Gibbons came to the University in 2002, the school had just received a "scathing report" from Northwestern's periodic program review evaluators. The report recognized that the school was little more than "a dusty undergraduate program" with limited master's options, little in the way of noncredit programming and no corporate education initiative.

"Long term, we were positioned under a more historic model," Gibbons says. "The school had lost market share, and it had missed the wave of continuing education nationwide."

Gibbons quickly set out to establish an appropriate organizational structure and assemble a leadership team that shared his vision. Now, with a focus on high-quality education for adult learners, Gibbons constantly encourages his staff to be entrepreneurial and innovative. The SCS leadership has shown a remarkable ability to identify untapped markets and the flexibility to respond with cutting-edge programs that maintain the academic integrity worthy of the Northwestern name.

At the same time, the school is adept at partnering with other Northwestern entities. And it's also become an incubation area for the University, especially in the integration of technology, with SCS now offering entire degrees online.

In the end, there are a lot of different ways that people can come to Northwestern through SCS, says the dean. "That's not necessarily the case with our competition. It's not on the scale that we have. We're now the market leader in Chicago, and that wasn't the case five years ago."

Back To School

Second chances, second careers, first loves — these are the students' stories of the School of Continuing Studies.

Colin Cosgrove had dropped out of college twice, in two countries, before he came to Northwestern last summer. In 1994 he left County Clare, Ireland, for a new start in Chicago and has since fashioned a successful career in the metal fabrication business. He worked his way up from the shop room floor to sales and engineering — and has the marks to prove it.

"I still have cuts, nicks, scratches on my arms. I chopped off the top of my finger," he says. "I learned a lot on the shop room floor, perhaps most importantly that that was not the way I was going to spend my life."

He knew the importance of getting his degree for professional growth, but it took time to learn the value of education for personal fulfillment.

"I had a friend who told me, if you go back to school, go for what you have a passion for," Cosgrove says. "Coming from Ireland, I always looked at school as a functional thing. You go to school to learn a skill rather than to develop your passion in life."

He is rediscovering his passion at Northwestern, not only for English, history and psychology, but also for the process of learning itself. Now Cosgrove is one year into his part-time undergraduate degree, and he's thinking about a doctorate in psychology or an MBA.

For Kirsty Montgomery (SCS07) not much gets in the way of her education — not even a newborn baby.

"I decided to go back to school to start my brain going," says Montgomery, who worked as a medical photographer in London before moving to the United States seven years ago. "I was nine months pregnant with my third child when I took my first class. I wanted to stop the pregnant brain, jelly brain."

After her son, Matthew, was born with just a few weeks left in the academic term in 2003, she took the baby to class. No one seemed to mind him much. So when Emily was born earlier this year, Montgomery again toted her little one to campus.

"It was a daytime class in Arabic, so my classmates were a bit more surprised," says Montgomery, who noted that the professors were incredibly accommodating. "It was great for me because it meant I could carry on with class."

Dean Gibbons says that the school approaches lifelong learning as a cradle-to-grave partnership with the student, though he might not mean it quite so literally.

But adult learners balance kids, careers and much more. It's all part of the challenge — and opportunity — of adult education. Franz Paul, a trader with Peak6 Investments in the Chicago Loop, says he appreciated the unique aspects of adult education: The ability to network with classmates and apply classroom lessons in the workplace.

"There are significant intellectual and career capabilities that our students bring to the table," says Timothy Gordon, associate dean of student services and registration. "No matter whether they're in undergraduate or graduate-level or certificate programs, they have an opportunity to leverage that knowledge and experience. The diversity of our students' perspectives can't help but enhance learning."

Still, when Montgomery applied to the University of Chicago, she worried that the admission committee would perceive her nontraditional degree in history as less serious. Her acceptance into the University of Chicago's master's program in social sciences calmed her fears.

"SCS offers a valuable education, a rigorous education," the British-born Montgomery says. "We're on a par with every other student, and we have to juggle so much more. Juggling school and kids is a little different than when I was 18 and I had to juggle trips to the pub between writing papers."

In Demand

Cosgrove, Montgomery and their peers in SCS are part of a growing wave of adult students. According to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, there will be an additional 1.3 million adult students, 25 or older, in higher education between 2004 and 2015. By 2015, an estimated 41 percent of all college students will be 25 or older. Even now, nearly three-quarters of all undergraduate students in the United States are in some way nontraditional, meaning, among other characteristics, they delayed enrollment, attend part time, are financially independent or work full time while enrolled.

Many, like Eddie Turner, come to the School of Continuing Studies when they reach a career roadblock.

Turner works as a senior help desk analyst for global information services in GE's commercial finance division in Chicago. If he applied today for his current job, Turner says he'd be rejected. The job requirements now include an undergraduate degree.

"That was a big motivating factor in my decision to go back to school," says Turner, who has worked in information technology for 14 years. "At one time in IT, it didn't matter that I didn't have a degree. You'd just show up and say, 'I can fix your computers.' Experience and industry certification used to be enough.

"I had been telling myself that experience would get me through the door. When they tell you that you don't meet the minimum requirements for a job after 14 years in the industry, it's a pretty sobering thing to hear."

He had started another degree completion program, but it didn't feel like a proper fit. Then he received a flier in the mail for Northwestern's new accelerated undergraduate degree completion program in leadership and organization behavior for managerial track professionals. Reluctantly he joined the program's first group last fall.

"I'll be honest — it took a hard sell from my GE mentors to get me to come to Northwestern," says Turner, who is also a Jehovah's Witnesses minister in St. John, Ind. "I remember sitting in class the first night and thinking, 'I can't do all this.'

"I tried to get out of the program, but I would have lost money. So I decided to stick with it for one quarter."

In just that one quarter, Turner says, the classroom content started to fill some of the knowledge gaps in his professional career. "I began to understand what it meant to be at Northwestern," he says. "I began to understand why it was important for me not to take the easy way out."

Peter Kaye, assistant dean for undergraduate and credit programs at SCS, says a sense of shared responsibility makes the cohort program particularly strong.

"It makes it easier to see an end point, and it makes it easier to weather the bumps because they're in this together," he says. "One student said to me, 'If someone wanted to leave the program, we'd have to talk about that. We're not just responsible to ourselves, we're responsible to the rest of the group.'

"That student's comment was worth its weight in gold. That sense of obligation to the other students is an important part of SCS's approach to education."

A Wider Web

The accelerated undergraduate degree completion program in leadership and organization behavior blends online learning with in-class instruction. Each group takes two courses per quarter, with classes alternating weekly between online and in-person sessions.

It's one of the school's first major endeavors into online education, an area of increasing emphasis for SCS and the University.

"Distance learning is an area that the University has been reserved about moving into — for good reason," Gibbons says. "It's a case where you didn't want to be the leader of the parade. A lot of the programs nationwide crashed and burned, and it was very expensive.

"Our goal is to develop internal expertise with the technology. As we develop new programs with other parts of the University, we'll share that expertise... It's a significant economic investment, but the University has to move into this area to keep up with its peers, such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Stanford."

One of the school's first noncredit online offerings was a futures and options trading program, developed in partnership with the Chicago Board of Trade. Using synchronous learning, students can attend the same course either online or in person at SCS's Loop campus.

Last winter SCS launched an online version of its master's degree in medical informatics. Some undergraduate summer courses might be the next to go live.

Linda Salchenberger (KSM80, 85), the school's associate dean of academics, assures fans of the classic classroom that there are no plans to turn every master's degree loose on the web, but where there is a national or international audience, she expects more managed growth in online programming.

This fall, with grant funding from the Alumnae of Northwestern, SCS plans to offer a webcast of its Green City Summer Institute, a Summer Session partnership with the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science that for the second year sent students into the wilds of Chicago and the suburbs to learn about environmental issues and sustainability.

Other upcoming partnerships include a major initiative with the Feinberg School of Medicine for a two-day spring bionanotechnology institute.

Modern Medicine

A patient walks into a physician's office after receiving six different diagnoses and nine different medications. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it's not. It's the scenario that makes SCS's master's in medical informatics more relevant than ever.

It's almost impossible for a physician to manage that much information during a brief visit, says David Liebovitz, director of the MMI program. Medical informatics can facilitate medical decision making, increasing the probability of safe and effective care.

"Part of the importance of our program lies in its emphasis on informatics operations, the real practical application of information technology to improve patient care and optimize patient outcomes from a quality perspective," says Liebovitz.

While a relatively low number of hospitals and ambulatory medical offices have fully implemented electronic medical records, there is pressure to move in that direction, building the demand for an effective medical informatics workforce, says Liebovitz, medical director for clinical information systems at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and chief medical information officer for the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation.

"My hope," he says, "is that our graduates will be prepared to bridge the gap between clinical medicine and management of information."

The MMI program is another key collaboration with Feinberg and SCS's first curricular partnership with the medical school. The program, which received a Creative Program-Credit Award from the Mid-America Region of the University Continuing Education Association in 2006, helps bring forward a field that has often underused technology, says Salchenberger, who co-teaches the program's Introduction to Medical Informatics. Now nurses, clinicians and technologists sit

in the same classroom and communicate their needs and challenges.

For someone like Mark Phillips, a technical business development manager who straddles the line between software development and strategic marketing in his work for GE Healthcare, the program helps him better understand clinical needs and translate them to engineering designers.

"It's had a direct impact on my ability to contribute to discussions we're having at GE," says Phillips. "For example, when we talk about chronic disease management, I've had exposure to principles of treatment through MMI."

SCS has other new programs in the works, including a master's of fine arts in creative writing, the school's first terminal degree — the highest attainable degree in a given field of study. The new degree, to launch in fall 2008, will leverage faculty and curriculum from the school's existing master's in creative writing but cater to a more professional and scholarly writing audience and offer more advanced study in the field.

A Link to the Community

Mental health therapist Mary Rooney knew little about divorce mediation when she signed up for Northwestern's certificate training in the practice. She soon discovered a new focus for her career.

"The concept made a lot of sense to me," Rooney says. "It seemed to be so much more humane than being adversarial and being tied up in litigation and having third parties do all the talking for you."

A therapist in private practice in the Chicago Loop and suburbs, Rooney completed the intensive five-day training in 2004 as an adjunct to her outpatient mental health practice. Afterward she interned with one of the instructors, Margaret Powers, and then formed a group with three other members of the class to talk about their experiences in divorce mediation.

Divorce mediation now makes up a significant portion of her therapy practice, and it's an area that she hopes to expand.

Noncredit certificate programs such as the one in divorce mediation offer a link to a Northwestern education that can create the impetus for a career change or add an updated credential.

Matt Collas came to SCS to help grow his landscape business. He earned a certificate in landscape design and management and expanded his links beyond lawn care, networking with instructors from Chicago's noted Gethsemane Garden Center.

Joe Koss, a lighting consultant for Grainger, plans for a second career in art and antiques when he retires. So he took classes with Antiques Roadshow appraiser Gary Piattoni in the fine and decorative art appraisal and connoisseurship program.

Some programs run just a few days, such as the divorce mediation training program, while others last an entire year. The noncredit offerings, taught by instructors with an average of 23 years experience in their fields of expertise, include old standards such as project management and business administration along with some new endeavors.

SCS will launch an information systems security management program in the fall in response to the increasing reliance on data and information systems in business and related data security issues.

"Five years ago if a laptop was stolen, you'd ask, 'How much is it worth?'" says Paul Jensen, former director of noncredit programs at SCS, in his elevator pitch for the program. "Now, if a laptop gets stolen, what's the first question you ask? What was on it?"

The program will train information systems security managers, who must combine the skills of a risk manager, security strategist and information technologist, says Jensen.

Other new offerings include business analyst training for information technology professionals and a program in innovation and entrepreneurship.

SCS also reaches out to students at large with Professional Development Programs — collections of four to eight credit courses in concentrations such as web development or premedicine.

The PDPs, which students can also build to suit, help individuals address very specific career goals or ramp up for professional school or a doctoral program.

For example, a businesswoman from India with her MBA took a variety of courses in marketing and communication to credential herself for the U.S. marketplace. She wound up completing two PDPs.

Such students, Kaye says, raise the intensity level in the classroom.

"Oftentimes, education tends to mean more for adult students," Kaye says. "For these students, it's not just a matter of doing something for a grade.

"I've had tenured faculty tell me these are some of their favorite classes. We have some Northwestern faculty who keep coming back to us because they enjoy teaching adults who are extremely committed and genuinely focus on the subject."

Corporate Partner

For 13 weeks in spring and summer 2006 the School of Continuing Studies played host to 22 civil servants from the Beijing municipal government who were sent to Chicago to study English in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. They came to SCS for a customized, seven-course program, based on the noncredit certificate program in professional English communication developed by Julia Moore (G04), who, in addition to her work with SCS, directs the Graduate School's summer language institute for international doctoral students.

The Chinese contingent selected Northwestern from among both U.S. and international schools based on its experience teaching English to Chinese speakers. The Beijing students took classes in listening and translation, conversation and pronunciation in SCS's new Chicago Loop space at Clark and Adams streets.

The Chinese delegation highlighted the school's foray into corporate education. More recently SCS crafted a program in strategic plan development and leadership training for the nonprofit Rotary International and offered customized certified financial planning training for Smith Barney. Other clients include pharmaceutical companies, information technology providers, publishing firms, service providers and other associations.

Through the University's Center for Public Safety, SCS also reaches out to the law enforcement community by providing specialized training in traffic accident investigation, forensic science, criminal investigation and transportation engineering.

Lifelong Learning

It took Domenica Moroney (SCS06) more than 40 years to wrap up her undergraduate degree.

A life crisis in her 30s provided the inspiration for her to start school at Rockford College in the 1960s. Along the way she met Francis Moroney, and soon they were married and busy raising a family. School fell by the wayside.

By the time she took a job with the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation in the 1990s, the Moroney daughters, Francesca and Gabriela, had graduated from college and her husband had three advanced degrees.

"I said to myself, 'Wait a minute, it's my turn,'" Moroney says.

She worked just steps from Wieboldt Hall, SCS's Chicago campus headquarters. Moroney, then in her 60s, determined to pursue the credits she needed to earn her degree and started taking courses at SCS, one at a time. She retired from Northwestern in 2002 but continued taking classes, and last year she completed her degree in English literature.

"Receiving that diploma was a dream come true," says Moroney.

Tim Gordon estimates that it takes the average student six years to progress through the undergraduate program. It takes some a little longer, but that's part of the flexibility of adult education.

And it's that flexibility, along with SCS's responsiveness and innovation that has created such excitement at Northwestern's new-age night school. With programs and degrees for all ages and stages of life, the possibilities are nearly limitless.

"Nontraditional education is an exploding field," says Franz Paul, "and SCS can command the field for years to come. It can be a real engine of growth for the University."

Tell us what you think. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail the editors at

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SCS - Illustration 1
Illustration by Rob Frankle
SCS - Thomas Gibbons
SCS Dean Thomas Gibbons, above, jokes that his lasting legacy will be in bricks and mortar. Since his arrival in 2002, SCS moved its Evanston campus administrative offices into the historic 1890s-built mansion on Church Street. In October the University will complete a $12 million renovation on the school's Chicago campus headquarters in Wieboldt Hall. Gibbons also helped SCS acquire space in the Chicago Loop at Clark and Adams streets.Photo by Andrew Campbell
SCS - Kirsty Montgomery
Full-time student mom Kirsty Montgomery and her childrenPhoto by Jerry Lai (WCAS04)
SCS - Franz Paul
Franz Paul, an options trader in ChicagoPhoto by Andrew Campbell