On July 11, Excelsior College will host its annual Commencement ceremony at the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany, New York. With ‘Commencement Stories’, Excelsior Life explores the personal and educational journeys of a few of this year’s outstanding graduates.
Only July 11, Rosa Pena-Roberts will travel from her home in Limerick, Pennsylvania to Albany, New York for Excelsior College’s Commencement, accompanied by her husband and young son. There she will meet many of her classmates and advisors for the first time and also reunite with a dear friend from the Dominican Republic, who will make the journey to America to share in Pena’s special day.
As Pena walks across stage to receive her MBA, it will mark the culmination of a dream that seemed unlikely just a few short years ago.
“When I emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States, I hit a road block finding a college that would accept my coursework from Universidad Tecnologica de Santiago (UTESA),” reflected Pena, a claims examiner for Prudential Financial. “I almost gave up. Then my employer told me about Corporate College Services (CCS). Through them I learned of Excelsior.”
A leader in the field of prior learning assessment (PLA) since its founding in 1971, Excelsior conducted a review of Pena’s academic record and determined her UTESA degree as college-level equivalent. In addition, Pena was also able to earn 27 credits towards her degree via the partnership Excelsior has with CCS, which offers corporations such as Prudential on-site corporate education for that has been approved for college-level credit by the American Council on Education.
Once accepted into the MBA program, the real challenges began for Pena, an English Language Learner.
“The language barrier was a personal challenge,” she says. “(But) if I reached out to an instructor or an advisor they were tremendously responsive.”
To earn an MBA at Excelsior, students must complete between 33 and 49 credits depending on the amount of transfer credit brought in. In addition to the credit earned through CCS, Pena was able to earn 18 credits via Excelsior’s own online courses – her first foray with distance learning. “It was my first time taking online courses,” said Pena. “I wasn’t very computer savvy but found the website and instructors helpful. They give you the tools to guide you through the process.”
The ability to work toward a degree with peers at a similar stage in life also proved helpful.
“Most of my classmates had a full-time job, so I was able to learn about other’s perspectives. It was great to have a professional environment,” said Pena, who soon discovered a passion for marketing and business communications.
“I never really thought much of commercials or why they were effective. My marketing courses gave me a deeper perspective… (and) my business communications courses helped provide techniques to improve my own ability to communicate more effectively orally and in writing.”
While balancing her time between school, work, and home life was challenging at times, her husband provided Pena with the support she needed to succeed. And Prudential offered her flexibility with her schedule and tuition assistance to finish the coursework.
Now with a degree in hand, Pena feels she has the skills to succeed in the professional world. Her advice to others thinking about a return to school?
“It’s demanding and requires sacrifice, but the sense of accomplishment makes it all worth it.”