Amy first started her college journey 10 years ago.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, she spent 13 years with the USDA, monitoring crops by satellite. She worked her way up to supervisor, managing people with master’s degrees and PhDs. But there was a problem — she never finished her bachelor’s.

“My boss said, ‘You’ve got to go to school,’” Amy remembers. She had been hired based on her strong work ethic, but the position required a degree.

Amy earned her associate’s degree and later returned to college to study business, thinking that would build on her career experience. But it was taking longer than she’d hoped, and she wanted to focus more on the “people side” of business. So she enrolled in a new online program — UNC Greensboro’s B.S. in Integrated Professional Studies (BIPS).

The timing, she says, was perfect.

“It just came at such a critical point in my life,” Amy explains. In November 2018, she resigned from her job with the USDA to homeschool her oldest son, who was struggling with mental illness and behavioral issues. The online format gave her the flexibility to study when it worked for her, and she soon found that BIPS would help her explore the real-life challenges her son was facing as she earned her degree.

Experience Instead of Exams

Amy says BIPS was not what she expected from an online program. None of the courses relied on the traditional “read and take a quiz” model. Instead, professors would say, “Here’s a concept, now go apply it in real life.”

“The BIPS program was very different in that it was very hands-on . . . you apply what you know,” Amy explains.

A course that she was skeptical about, Self-Awareness, ended up being her favorite. It made Amy think about what drives her, and she realized that she was learning quite a bit about herself and what she wants in life.

“It’s not touchy feely,” she says. “It really makes you delve into who you are, what you’re good at, and what your interests are.”

From New Perspectives to a New Calling

The Self-Awareness course helped Amy focus her interests and define her future educational and career goals. She realized that her passion is working with children, and she wants to help kids like her son succeed in school. So she focused her research and projects on improving the educational outcomes for students with mental health diagnoses and behavioral disorders.

Each BIPS course helped Amy tackle this problem from a different angle. Systems Thinking taught her to look below the surface at the driving factors. Design Thinking taught her to brainstorm and look at problems from the perspective of others. To accomplish this, she worked with partners outside of her class — a schoolteacher, fellow parents, and even her son.

“That was really fascinating to me,” she says. “You get different perspectives that you didn’t necessarily think about.”

In research for her final capstone project, Amy studied a disciplinary report on suspensions and expulsions in North Carolina, and it brought her to tears. The data backed up what she already knew — the disproportionate number of male and minority students who run into disciplinary problems at school — and it reinforced her decision to make a career out of working proactively to help students. She credits BIPS with putting her on this path.

Making an Impact

On a personal level, Amy says homeschooling has paid off so far. Her son has advanced two grade levels in math, and as part of her capstone project, she created a website to help teachers find solutions for students like him.

Amy graduated with her BIPS degree in May 2019. In the fall, she started  graduate school in the Joint Master of Social Work program offered by UNCG and North Carolina A&T State University. She wants to work with children with mental health conditions, perhaps as a school social worker.

Looking back, Amy’s boss was right to encourage her to go to school, but she’s earned so much more than a degree.

“This program really brought me around,” she says. “BIPS showed me what I’m passionate about.”