Central Washington University
Creating Seamless Career Transitions

Creating Seamless Career Transitions

A campus within a campus might be such a novel idea it’s hard to wrap your mind around. Or find.

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However, it’s not uncommon for community college students around the state to remark that they aren’t familiar with the concept when they stumble upon one of CWU’s University Centers or instructional sites. The centers, located on partner college campuses, provide near seamless opportunities for students with associate’s degrees to continue their education and complete their bachelor’s degrees at Central.

Then there’s the issue of getting the attention of prospective students.

“I love cats,” recalled recent grad Paula Shull, “and I happened to see the Wildcat paw stickers all over the building, so I started asking around about what that was and what programs [Central] offered.”

CWU-Lynnwood ultimately caught Shull’s attention with its supply chain management program.

“I did some research and it piqued my interest because of the variety of jobs you can have with it, such as logistics, purchasing, or operations,” she said.

After graduation, Shull was offered a job as a distribution planner/master scheduler at Everett’s Fluke Corporation in April—three months before she graduated from Central with honors.

The University Centers offer students a variety of benefits, according to Carlo Smith, chair of the Department of Finance and Supply Chain Management. He explained that a big part of the centers’ secret formula is diversity.

“This can be thought of in many different ways, culturally, but also diversity in the types of students,” Smith said, adding that many students are returning after taking a break from school. They frequently are working in jobs and want to finish their degree so they can move up in their organization.

“It’s almost like having a graduate program because of the amount of experience they have,” he said. “When we talk about a topic, students get better context and real-world examples.”

Shull said she is forever grateful for Smith’s mentorship as she pursued her Six Sigma practicum capstone.

“Usually capstones are just writing case studies, so having the opportunity to do a hands-on project was way more impactful,” she said.

The respect goes both ways.

“She has a tremendous amount of maturity,” Smith said of Schull. “She made good use of her time and she was focused on what her goals were.”

Different Paths, Same Results

Amber Ackley, a new wife, stepmother, and student at CWU-Lynnwood had a very specific list of qualities that needed to be met when she was searching for higher education opportunities that aligned with her specific needs.

“I had applied to a few different universities. I was looking for something local that had a good reputation. Central was at the top of the list,” Ackley said.

“I kind of fought it for a long time. I’m 30. I’ve worked a long time before going to school,” she continued. “I had already had management roles [and] bookkeeper roles, and I knew I was really good at it. You see all these things in the movies where it looks really boring, but it really isn’t.”

The decision to move up was due in part to Ackley being tired of her job.

“It’s really hard to work in retail. I did that for 12 straight years. It burns people out. It burned me out,” she said. “When I was getting close to quitting, this man had come into the store and had a heart attack. I had been giving him CPR and he passed away. It’s really hard to have someone die in your arms.”

Even after that traumatizing experience, Ackley’s store manager didn’t check in on her for three days. Fast-forward to the support network she has found at CWU-Lynnwood.

“[CWU-Lynnwood staff] get you ready for the outside world,” she said. “I think that’s a problem a lot of schools have, in that there’s not a lot of practical education. I wanted to make sure I got practical knowledge, not just lectures. A lot of people don’t learn from lectures.”

Ackley’s laser-focus on school was due in part to her significant personal obligations.

“With the exception of this fall, I’ve worked the entire time I’ve gone to school,” she explained. “I’m a self-supporting student with a family.”

That family includes a new husband and a 4-year-old stepdaughter with autism and ADHD. Ackley also has served as the primary caregiver for her 91-year-old grandmother since her grandfather died in 2016. She did the same for him.

“He’s a big part of the reason that I went back to school in the first place.,” she said. “I was always trying to do things because I wanted him to be proud, and usually I would give up or ‘take a break.’ Honest to God, it took me 13 years to get my AA degree, and the final push was when he was getting close to the end of his life.”

“I’ve worked my butt off, working full time while being in school full time, and it really hit me hard that he passed away a month to the day before I took my last final,” she continued. “He was a truly phenomenal man—he enlisted in the Navy during World War II, where he wound up as part of the honor guard while the treaty was being signed. He spent his whole life working hard, loving his family and friends, and I still want to live in a way that would have made him proud.”

With Ackley set to graduate in December—and already employed at a top accounting firm in downtown Seattle—it seems likely that he would be extremely proud.


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