Ten years into her professional career, Audra Woodley pondered her next move. Should she go back to school and obtain a graduate degree?
The Philadelphia native had already racked up impressive credentials, receiving a B.S. in Physics from Lincoln University in 1987, followed by a second bachelor's from Drexel University in 1990 -- this time in Commerce and Engineering, with a concentration in Finance. Career-wise, she had already achieved success in the corporate and contracting worlds as a systems and project analyst, and as a manager.
Still, Woodley realized, maintaining her competitive edge depended on staying one step ahead of developments in the quickly evolving technological marketplace.
"It became obvious with all the heightened interest within the computer security environment, pursuit of a graduate degree was paramount in order to stay current and marketable," she said. "Computer systems and related fields became the focus; operating systems were all competing for that leading edge of security protection. This piqued my interest and set me on the path to understanding the technological advances within the security environment -- hence my graduate degree."
Returning to school was not a decision Woodley took lightly. Completing two undergraduate degrees at two institutions had already left her "burnt out", she says. Moreover, she needed to find a program that would not disrupt her professional career and that she could integrate into her busy work schedule.
That's where Capitol College came in. "Capitol offered a 'fast track' program, which offered the ability to complete entire program in less than two years. I believe I completed it in 20 months with a 3.8 GPA ," Woodley said.
She was attracted to the college's innovative Information and Telecommunications Systems Management (ITSM) program, designed to help build the capabilities needed to take on pivotal roles in technology-based organizations. ITSM students study systems management within a technology context, with the opportunity to specialize in Information Assurance, Technology Management Law and Policy, or Leadership.
"I was interested in the business aspect, but was also excited to see the IT aspect being intertwined. It was a perfect combination," Woodley said.
Capitol's flexibilty was also a plus; Woodley was able to take her coursework at an Alexandria satellite location near her place of work. Although the college closed its Alexandria branch in 2004, Capitol continues to offer working students convenience and flexibility through web-based, interactive classrooms. Today, the ITSM degree is offered 100% online.
New skills for an evolving workplace
Her master's degree from Capitol has had a measurable impact on her career path, Woodley said.
"Capitol has been instrumental in maintaining my marketability," she said. "During the 90s and the post Gulf War eras, there were several effects that resulted from a recession economy. One specifically was the shift in what I call 'employee loyalty'. No longer were people poised to work for the same company until retirement. Instead, there was a shift in focus on advancement and long-term employment became a thing of the past."
"Folks began making choices in their employment based on their own personal goals and objectives. Iin most cases, as long as you possessed the attributes and criteria that a company was in search of, you were essentially a shoe-in. I was able to make advances which built upon my skill set, as well as increase my compensation. Having a graduate degree again was instrumental in making that happen."
In 2002, two years after her graduation from Capitol, Woodley landed her current position as Senior Acquisition Analyst at CACI international, where she supports the F-22A Secretary of the Air Force/Fighter Acquisition major force program. She continues to hone her professional skills, pursuing two industry certifications, while devoting her spare time to animal welfare and cruelty prevention, as well as to supporting her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.
She is also an active member of the alumni communities at all three of the colleges she attended, providing financial support that benefits present and future students.
"I am a believer in 'paying it forward'," Woodley said. "I was the recipient of a fully paid four-year scholarship and understand first hand the blessing bestowed and the burden lifted that granting of this award has provided. Each university (Lincoln, Drexel and Capitol) has played their role in my development, which has not gone unrecognized. Therefore, it is my duty to give a portion of my time and effort towards helping other students benefit from a similar opportunity."