Why Do I Choose to Work for Higher Education?

My résumé shows that my entire career has been working in higher education. I started off at Vassar College for five years, moved on to George Washington University for three years, and landed at George Mason University for almost nine years. Why do I choose to work for higher education? The short answer is that I wanted to make money and keep on learning at the same time. I am still doing both of these things today.

In the summer of my sophomore year in college, I landed my first graphic design internship at the Trump Marina, which was the casino the savvy businessman ran to the ground. Although I was paid, I did not do jack. The in-house graphic designer didn’t give me anything to work on. I got tired of sitting in front of a Mac computer with no internet connection. I quit after two months and decided to focus on web design instead of graphic design.

Then I landed another paid internship at Unisys. I had no clue what the company did and I still don’t know what they do now. I was working with two older gentlemen on an intranet. They worked on a zip disk, burned the site to CDs, and distributed them within the company. They gave me a copy of the site to play with, but they gave me no instruction on what to do. I gave them advice on cleaning their codes because they were using Microsoft FrontPage, but they were not interested in implementing the changes. I quit after a month and a half and joined my classmates at La Salle University working on a start-up website called weplayit.com, which was some kind of a sport registration site for kids. I was recruited because of my Flash animation skills. It was a sweet gig. Unfortunately, I got laid off the day after the site launched. I guessed no one signed up.

Then I landed a part-time job at D4 Creative, an advertising agency in Philadelphia. I was hired to do Flash work and I was tasked with cheesy email ads. After a few weeks, my supervisor told me that he didn’t have any more work for me. He didn’t fire me, but he never called me back either.

I graduated from college and faced the dot-com bubble burst. I could not find a web-related job; therefore, I ended up stuffing papers into envelopes at RR Donnelley full-time and coding HTML pages at Triple Strength part-time. I finally landed my first real full-time job at Vassar College doing web design. At Vassar, projects didn’t move as fast as the agencies and deadlines took longer, which gave me the time to design, to experiment with different techniques, and to implement new technologies. I loved the educational environment where I could work and learn at the same time. After work, I went to free lectures and even free dinners sometimes. I audited classes and my favorite one was the course on the history of jazz. That class opened up my world to improvisational music, something I had never noticed before.

I moved to Virginia, worked for George Washington University School of Business, and started my own family. I had a rough time there, but I managed to get by. I even enrolled into the MS in Information Systems Technology program. I dropped out just after two months to take on a new job at George Mason University School of Law, which had been renamed to Antonin Scalia Law School.

Although educational institutions pay less than private companies, they are more secured. You are less likely to get laid off or fired unless you screw up really bad. On the positive side, tuition is the key benefit. I have an older friend who still works at American University and he put two of his kids through college for free. He saved four hundred grants right there. For me, getting an MA in graphic design at George Mason University School of Art was such a rewarding experience. Not only I didn’t have to pay a dime, I also made money teaching as an adjunct professor while earned my credits toward my degree. I wrote Professional Web Typography for an independent study, in which I earned an A+ and made some money off it as well. For my final thesis, I wrote Vietnamese Typography and put it out for free. The book had started my consulting works with type designers.

Lately I have been thinking of enrolling into a master writing program at Mason since I love to write so damn much. I would love to do non-fiction writing or journalism. I floated the idea to my wife, but she shut it down quickly. My priority right now is my kids. When they grow older, I’ll reconsider it.

Even if you just graduated from college and want to further your education, you might want to consider higher institutions. I hope this long post will inspire you to do so.