Back to School

Hi all,
My name is Scott and I recently moved to Wilmington, North Carolina to embark on a new path in life. After getting a degree in mathematics in my youth and spending the fifteen years that followed corporate ladder-climbing in tech, I eventually burned out and pursued a more relaxing career in photography. (Creative endeavors are my passion.) Since 2016, I have occasionally driven for Uber both for added income and for the social aspect. When I realized I had driven enough to earn free tuition at ASU, I decided to pursue a degree in English.

As for professional goals, I have none in particular. I’d honestly be happy working in the basement of a library managing their microfiche department provided my coworkers were pleasant enough and, maybe from time to time, celebrated someone’s birthday with cake. I’m most interested in being intellectually challenged and improving my writing skills.

And this would be my first university writing assignment, due for my orientation class at Arizona State University which I completed this week. I received full points/credit for my work so, “Yay, me!” Since there may be some information in here that you’re unfamiliar with or that may be of interest to you, allow me to deconstruct this 150 word submission.

Becoming a Sun Devil

In less than a month, I begin the first of my classes at Arizona State University on my way to earning a Bachelor of Arts in English and I couldn’t be more excited! Three months ago, the idea of going back to school wasn’t anywhere near the “things to do with my life” list. I had definite plans to change my geography and theoretical plans to change careers but nowhere on the horizon were plans to go back to school. And then, having all but abandoned photography and doing nothing more than taxiing people from one destination to another, something happened: I hit a notable milestone. Over the course of seven or so years of driving off and on for Uber, I had made 2,000 trips. “Neat,” I thought. And also, “Oh, that’s terribly sad.”

When I looked at the Uber app on my phone, I realized that having made 2,000 trips, I now qualified for a free education from Arizona State University Online. I had noticed previously that it was an available benefit once you hit that milestone but I didn’t take it seriously because, well, it’s an online education. And then I realized my thinking might be stale.

Wait, so You’ve Been Driving for Uber?

Yeah. So I started driving for Uber when I lived in Miami in 2016. After leaving the corporate world in 2007 and pursuing photography, I realized that I could live somewhat minimally, just working any sort of job and do whatever I wanted to do creatively. So I drove for Uber for a while in Miami and then in Tampa in 2017. I didn’t drive for Uber again until the spring of 2023. I had driven for DoorDash for the three years prior but I really just didn’t enjoy it. Plus, I was so absurdly isolated (intentionally so) that I needed some sort of socialization. That was really my final push to start driving for Uber again.

Moving On

It’s hard to grasp, I think especially for someone born into the world today, how drastically life has changed since the introduction of the internet. In a period of barely over a quarter of a century, in far less time than the average lifespan, nearly every major aspect of our lives has not just been affected but drastically altered by the digital world. I saw someone posit the question recently, “How did people even work before computers and cell phones? Like what did they do at their desk?”

Dating, working, learning, banking, shopping, handling private and governmental business, and even simply communicating have all been touched by the advent of the internet. And the integration of technology and the online world into our daily lives has even altered the way we interact with each other in the real world. Phone call? Ew. No thank you. A period at the end of that closing sentence on a text? Aggressive much? (1998 me asking, “What’s a text?”)

Anecdotal Evidence

Exhibit A: My first job out of college (my second run*) in 1995 was working for a software company that stayed pretty on top of changes in the tech industry. Not quite the bleeding edge but definitely the cutting edge. In my second year there, when a coworker and I found out that our boss and his girlfriend had met online, we were flabbergasted but then immediately agreed that it made perfect sense because he had just the right level of dorkiness to use an online dating service. It was just such an odd thing to do then. Just a few years later in 2003, I remember picking every weed in the garden of online love that was after my wife and I separated. Today, window-shopping romantic interests (whether a long-term commitment or a short-term fling) via scrolling through profiles on any one of a mountain of dating apps on your phone is as noneventful as scrolling through memes. (2005 me asking, “What’s an app? You mean like Snake? I LOVE SNAKE!!!!“)

Exhibit B: Toward the end of the 90s, I hit a high water mark in my professional career, working for a different software company in Newton, Massachusetts: an upper management position in a corner office with large plate-glass windows overlooking the Charles River. Great salary, stock options, the whole nine. But those windows… I can still feel the serenity of it all when it snowed. It was a job I absolutely loved and it was so completely satisfying on a professional level. In late 2001, familial circumstances demanded that I return to South Carolina and I was thankfully able to convince my employer to allow me to work from home. Working remotely at that time wasn’t unheard of but it was almost a complete anomaly. Sure, some people were doing it, but they were few and far between. Skype didn’t even exist let alone Zoom. The meetings I sat in on taking place in Newton were literally speakerphone conference calls. There was no video feed. I honestly don’t even know how I accomplished any amount of work.

Over the 20+ years that followed, working online or remotely became far more common. So much so that following the pandemic of 2020, there was a tremendous backlash of remote workers not wanting to return to the office. (2002 me asking, “What’s Skype?”)

Exhibit C: I remember when NetBank became a thing in 1998 – coincidentally, they bought out one of the companies I had worked for – and the idea of online banking seemed utterly ridiculous and stupidly inconvenient. That wasn’t a service any “respectable” bank offered. Why should I trust my money to a literal website that popped up during the dot com craze? After moving to Massachusetts, I remember seeing a local bank that offered online services and thinking that it seemed way too risky. Imagine opening up an account with a bank today that doesn’t offer online services. That’s a hard pass. (1995 me asking: “What’s online banking?”)

Exhibit D: In 1989, the University of Phoenix established a presence on CompuServe. Three years later, they became one of the first universities to offer an online education. At that point in time, it was such a novelty that it was a rare individual who took such an offering seriously. In 1998, New York University created an online subsidiary, NYU Online. This was over a quarter of a century ago. In 2010, Arizona State University began offering full degrees online. (1985 me along with every GenZ’er asking: “What’s a CompuServe?”)

Today, both MIT and Stanford offer free online classes. And in 2022, more than half of all college students took at least one class online.[1] While it’s been shown to not necessarily be a great model for early learners, for older and more mature students, it’s widely recognized as a perfectly acceptable learning environment.

In Defense of an Online Education

For asynchronous learning, the same course material is taught by the same professors. The technology exists and, as with every other industry touched by tech, is continually refined to make the online learning experience better. The capabilities for having one-on-one time with faculty are in place. Sure, there’s some level of the college experience that you lose in a virtual setting but I’ve already had the college experience. And not just once. Not even twice.* Apparently, three times as there was a whole episode in my life I have completely forgotten about!

And here we’ll quickly detour into a fun, side story:

As part of the application process to Arizona State University, they requested that I have my transcripts sent over from the University of South Carolina. After receiving and processing them, I received a notification that they would then like my records from some place called CPCC.

And I think, “I’m sorry, what? CPCC? That has to be Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. But I didn’t go there, did I? No, of course not. There must be some mistake. I mean, it is located in Charlotte and I did live there in between my first and second run at college. But I didn’t go there, did I? I would have some memory of that. No, this has to be a mistake. There’s no way. Right?”

I was completely baffled. I knew roughly where the campus was located; I could vaguely visualize it in my mind but that was it. There must have been some mistake in the records. I called Arizona State University to find out what was going on and they mentioned that my transcripts from USC indicated I had attended Central Piedmont. Dumbfounded, I tried even harder to dig up any memory I could about going to school there and was coming up empty. Absolutely nothing in my mind. How could this be?

I then called the registrar’s office at CPCC and they, much to my surprise, confirmed that I had been a student there (during the timeframe in which I lived in Charlotte) and were able to list some classes I had taken which made perfect sense (such as Turbo Pascal.)

Zero recollection. Zero. Zip. Nothing. Nada. I couldn’t picture a single classroom, not a single professor, not a parking lot, not a vending machine, not a single commute that I must have done repeatedly, not even one single solitary classmate. Just nothing. And I still can’t! Utterly bizarre.

So that phrase “I’ve forgotten more than you know” that older people will sometimes say jokingly to younger people? Yeah. Apparently, if you live long enough, you can say this to yourself.

Anyway, back to the point. I was talking to a young fellow in my car the other day and he mentioned that he was in school and then immediately qualified it with “but it’s online.” When I mentioned to someone close to me (both emotionally and chronologically) that getting a free online education was an option for me now, they laughed at the idea of an online degree.

Today’s view of online education is the same view as the mid-90s view of online dating. Even ASU notes to prospective students that their diplomas don’t explicitly state whether you earn your degree online or in person. So there’s definitely still some stigma with it although it’s quickly evaporating. That I feel compelled to bring some defense to it here, I think, is probably unnecessary and will likely seem ludicrous in another ten years. However, this is the current state of affairs in the Year of our Lord 2024.

Making a Better Me

All of this said, I don’t think I can adequately express how excited I am about going back to school to get a degree in English. It feels so appropriate at this stage in my life. As I stated in my orientation essay, my interests in going back to school are twofold: to be intellectually stimulated and to become a better writer. And I think both goals will serve me well along whatever paths open before me and whichever ones I choose to follow.

Lastly, as I begin this new adventure, I’d like to reflect back on what my eighth grade social studies teacher, Marty Pfotenhauer, taught me and the rest of our class on what I can only perceive now as a particularly exasperating day for him and that is this: you get out of life exactly what you put into it – garbage in, garbage out. So while I undoubtedly, one-hundred percent gave Mr. Pfotenhauer nothing but hot garbage one fine day in my youth, I’m one-hundred percent going to give ASU my absolute best. Which is not hot garbage. Here’s looking at you, Marty!

Forks up, Devils!!

* My first run at USC, I majored in music with an emphasis on classical piano. I dipped out for a while and did other things (ran off to California with my future ex-wife, got married in Vegas, had a kid, served in the military, and apparently attended community college). When I went back to USC, I pursued and received a BS in Mathematics.

3 responses to “Back to School”

  1. Kobes Christine Avatar
    Kobes Christine

    Great story telling

  2. Jessica Henry Avatar
    Jessica Henry

    I love this! You are an excellent writer. You pulled me in front the very beginning, and kept me interested the whole way through. You have certainly lived a jam packed full life so far!

  3. Claudia Bates-Physioc Avatar
    Claudia Bates-Physioc

    It was fun reading this part of your story, Scott. You have such a gift, thank you for sharing it.

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