On a wall in Nicole Berlowski’s office in the professional building at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, is a piece of art, created by one of her daughters. Eight large letters, written over blocks of color, spell out “I AM BRAVE.”
Now, going back to school for a graduate degree after a decade-plus in the workforce might not exactly be running into a burning building sort of brave, but it does take some courage, some intestinal fortitude, to dive back into the world of exams and term papers after so many years away.
And, in spite of her general fearless attitude, Berlowski will admit she felt more than a little anxiety when she about thought pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree.
It would be a lot of work. And time. And money. And there was her family—a husband and two daughters, one embarking on a competitive volleyball path that would require a lot of back and forth to practices and games. And it wasn’t exactly like her job depended on it. She had already become a human resources manager—her actual title is director of total rewards and HR business intelligence for ProHealth Care in Waukesha. Her life was full, personally and professionally.
But Berlowski likes to learn. Even back when she received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin in 2000, she had a feeling she wasn’t done with school. And in the years since she has sought out numerous and frequent educational opportunities—that piece of art on her office wall is surrounded by certificates. Still, when it was time to register, she hesitated.
“It was a very last-minute decision,” she recalled. The family was about to move, and home life was busy. “But my husband made the point to me—there is never going to be a perfect time. You just have to pick the time.”
She took the plunge.
“I had been so far away from college for so long. It was scary,” she admitted. An introvert, she was apprehensive about speaking in class and nervous about, well, everything that college classes would mean. “As you get further away from undergrad, you just can’t imaging taking another exam or writing another paper,” she said. “The transition was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Texts, papers, it’s all been doable. Manageable. It’s been just fine.”
She chose Carroll for a couple or reasons.
She had acquaintances who had taken online MBA programs and knew those weren’t for her. “I needed an in-person MBA program,” she said. “I know that about myself, I can’t learn that way. I need that interaction, person to person.”
The small class sizes and the flexibility of Carroll’s program were big sells, too. Straight through, it’s a 22-month process, but Berlowski was able to take a semester off during the family’s move.
She’s learned a lot already—about marketing, about statistics and about herself.
“The biggest challenge so far? Time management. I’ve learned that I’m a bit of a procrastinator.”
She feels she has become a better communicator at work, and that she now fully comprehends the reports she gets at work from a data scientist on her team. But her biggest lesson may be that she is not the person she was all those years ago at UW. Her professional experiences have changed her. Her life has changed her.
“It’s been a confidence booster,” she said. As an undergrad, she was a good student, happy to achieve GPAs above 3.0. “But now I have this thing where I have to get an A. The program has brought out my drive.” The day before her first exam, she spent all day at the Center for Graduate Studies, studying. “I just have this strong desire to do well. I really want to feel like I’m getting something out of it.”
“It’s so personal for me. It’s not about work. I love learning. I like being able to say I did it. I think about when I get it, how much that will mean to me. I mean, my parents didn’t have college degrees. It’s just really personal to me.”
It’s about lifting herself higher, challenging herself and growing.
The lessons aren’t lost on her daughters, she said. “My daughters are smart, they get it.”