How Online Degrees Changed Career Paths

Conversations with ASU alums Sandy Marques and Devon Probal

Earlier this month, we saw thousands of students walk across the stage at graduation to receive their diploma from Arizona State University, and a significant number of those students completed their degrees online. Pursuing a degree through ASU Online has given many professionals the flexibility to establish a career while simultaneously gaining new skills that helped them flourish professionally.  

We checked in with Sandy Marques and Devon Probal, two former ASU graduates who are making their mark on the world.

In 2012, Sandy Marques graduated from ASU’s online RN to BSN program. Prior to becoming a nurse, Marques had worked for 20 years at a criminal justice lab. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the compassion shown by her bedside nurses inspired Marques to pursue her Associate’s Degree in Nursing, then Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing from ASU, and later her Master’s Degree.

For Devon Probal, a traditional four-year institution was not the right choice for her. But not wanting to forego the ability to earn a degree, Probal earned her Bachelor’s degree in history from ASU Online while working for the U.S. State Department in Australia. Last December, Probal completed her degree, and now, at 24 years old, works for U.S. Pacific Command building business intelligence databases.

Sandy Marques

Tell us more about your story. What catalyzed the change of trajectory for your career?

I’m a breast cancer survivor. I felt, being as lucky as I was to survive that, that I really needed to give back. In 2005, I decided to go to Coconino Community College, where I now teach, to get my Associate’s Degree in Nursing. I'm a Certified Oncology Nurse. Because I've laid in the bed and I've been where my patients have been, I get how they're appropriately mourning the loss of a life they had before they found out they had cancer.

What made you pursue your BSN?

I dragged my feet. I didn't want to do it, because I was already working full-time, and I had daughters to care for and a sick mom at the time. Just the thought of going back to school again at 45 years old was like, "Ugh." But after my mom passed away, I decided it was what she would have wanted me to do. She was a nurse, also. Now, I'm pushing my ADN students to get their BSN, and I encourage them to consider various programs, including ASU.

Why was ASU Online the right choice for you?

At the time, my husband worked at Northern Arizona University, which I considered. They still had clinicals, and I didn’t want to do extra time in the hospitals because I already had that experience. ASU’s program fit better into my schedule, and I knew that a degree from ASU carried a lot of clout. I finished in 13 months, and it was a fabulous program. I even had two daughters get married when I was completing my degree, and my professors were understanding and flexible during that very busy time.

How did an online education translate for a degree in nursing, a very hands-on field?

It translated very well. In your BSN, you’re learning about management and leadership, and a lot about the health community, populations at risk, and evidence-based practice. You're reading articles, you're reading books, and you're doing discussion questions that you can apply to what is going on in your nursing practice at that moment, at the bedside. There was group work, there were discussion groups, and ASU put a lot of emphasis on evidence-based practice.

Now, you have your Master’s in Nursing and you’re an instructor at Coconino Community College, where you got your ADN. How did your education through ASU Online prepare you for being at the front of the classroom?

Just like teaching, nursing is so much about education. You're spending so much time educating your patients about a new drug or a new lifestyle, or the exercises they must do to recover from a stroke. As a nurse you're educating your patients, their families, and you're educating yourself, because your patient may say to you, "Well, what is blah, blah, blah?" and you have to call on your research skills to find out and give them the right answer.

Devon Probal

You have a very interesting job and background. Tell us about it.

I'm contracted by the government through a company called Cubix, and I build databases for the government doing business intelligence.

I had a different kind of college experience. Previously, I worked for the U.S. State Department in Australia in Canberra for about three years. I was starting my career and was getting ahead of the curve while still going to school at ASU during this time, because I think it’s really important to have a degree in general. Then, I thought about where I wanted to live, and I was like, “Hawai’i.” So, I applied for government jobs there.

What does your job at USPACOM entail?

I now work in the arm of the US Pacific Command that deals with non-traditional government entities. There are government entities like USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and NOAH (National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation) that are atypical humanitarian and oceanic types of government entities. We also work with nonprofits and academics. We bring these organizations to the table and ask what issues they’re dealing with. Then, my job is to develop that relationship and understand their organization and how things occur in our area of reference. That way, when the government says, “We’re going to do this,” we at USPACOM know the people who have spent their entire lives doing it, who are the best people to get information from, and how we should approach that.

How do you think online education differs from traditional education?

The one thing about being an online student that is far different from a brick-and-mortar-type of classroom environment is the fact that you're kind of forced to read everything, you know? If you don't read it, you're going to have problems when you go to take exams or when you go to write papers. I think there's a level of responsibility placed on the online student that you really don't get in the classroom environment.

How do you think ASU has helped you succeed at your current job?

First and foremost, I’m a history major. So, the fact that I'm in IT now is totally somewhat foreign. It's not what I’m traditionally good at, but my job is very analytical in nature. I guess doing your degree online makes you a little computer savvy. You have to be. My job is a mixture of understanding how relationships work, and then using a program to make sure the analysis that you're conducting is correct. ASU helped me because history is quite analytical, right? It's understanding these relationships. Studying history at ASU Online helped me to develop and sharpen my ability to critically think in an efficient manner, and also helped me with my job today. There's a lot of history involved with my job in understanding what our country has done previously in the region, how we can avoid mistakes, and what has worked well.

What made you choose ASU?

I was pretty diligent about my research. I looked at all these schools on the East Coast and on the West Coast as well. I really was looking for a program that was tried and true. To be honest, what pushed me over the edge with attending ASU was the fact that the programs were respected amongst the international community. When I was hired at USPACOM, they looked at my resume, and were impressed that I went to ASU. It’s a school highly respected for innovation, which is especially important for doing something innovative like I am.

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