PROGRESS: “I finished everything except a one credit research paper.”
EXPECTED DATE OF COMPLETION: N/A
STORY: Even through the computer, Michele gives off a pleasant air of busy-ness. She’s wearing a t-shirt and glasses, and her shoulder length hair is down. We set up our interview for around 1:30 in the afternoon so that she would have time to pick her daughter up from school afterwards. She’s sitting in what looks like either a living room or an office. The only visible decor is a large print of a photograph on the wall, a foggy image of a fence along a field.
“[My husband] Wayne laughs at me,” she says, noting that close friends or family tease her for being so close without finishing the degree. At one point she jokingly scolds me as well, saying “don’t laugh at me! I see you grinning.” I feel a little guilty for being caught smiling, but I’m not doing so for any malicious reason; I just like hearing how she talks. She has a distinctly Michigan accent, and up until now I’ve only really talked to her when she was being a mom, so it’s an interesting to hear her speaking more naturally.
She started working on her degree while working for Chrysler as a supplier quality engineer in 2003. “Eastern [Michigan University] came into Chrysler management and said ‘Look, we want to offer this program to your employees and we will come in and administer it on your campus at Chrysler,’ and so it was kind of something for the employees, and it was good for Eastern because Chrysler paid Eastern.” She casually drops in that she already had a Master’s in Business from University of Michigan, but she decided to pursue this new degree because “Eastern was offering it, and Chrysler was offering to pay for it.”
“There was a big group of us… I don’t remember how many but I bet there was 40 to 60 of us that started it.” Michele worked on the degree for two to three years, staying after work until 9 or 10 at night twice a week.
The final credit of the degree is when Michele’s motivation started to change. She had to write a research paper, a more independent aspect of the degree. Without the group of people she’d been working with through the rest of the degree, “that support went away.” The research paper, she explains, needed to be defended in front of a panel, and was “daunting.” Having changed jobs at this point, much of the momentum she’d had for the rest of the degree was redirected towards other endeavors. I asked her if it was a personal, academic, or professional endeavor. “I love learning and the classroom, I just didn’t want to do the research paper.” The paper was never written.
Michele is straightforward about finishing this degree: she won’t. “I really intended to put it on temporary hold but I switched departments. I went from quality at Chrysler to product at Chrysler, which was still Chrysler but it was a whole different focus. The degree was in quality management, but I went from there to product engineering. And because I had a new position at Chrysler I kind of dropped it.”
In November 2009, Michele took the buyout and left the company. “I didn’t think they’d survive, and soon after I left they filed for bankruptcy.” She has since started teaching math, physics, and statistics at Baker College in the Flint, MI area.
At this point, the only obvious benefit of the degree would be to improve her resume. “It just–it looks bad on a resume, to have not finished it. It does bother me. I still beat myself up about it. I think it would help me now, if I wanna go back, and at some point I’m gonna go back to work in automotive I’m not retired, I’m not done yet, and I think it would help, certainly. I put it on my resume and I just put that it’s not complete, and that’s kind of embarrassing.”
Going back to finish the degree is impractical at this point.