Juggling the Worlds of Work and Academics to Get Ahead

The College of Professional Studies celebrated GW’s Bicentennial and 20 years of promoting career growth and change.

Image of CPS alumni Janis Nicholas, Randy Townsend and Nikita Thompson.
CPS alumni Janis Nicholas, Randy Townsend and Nikita Thompson.
June 11, 2021

By B.L. Wilson

The College of Professional Studies signature event commemorating George Washington University’s Bicentennial featured a distinguished panel of alumni who described the personal and professional growth they’ve experienced through participation in CPS programs.

CPS, founded 20 years ago, is one of the university’s newer colleges, created for non-traditional students who already are working and hope to advance careers or change professions by completing bachelor’s degrees, pursuing master’s degrees or participating in graduation certification and noncredit programs in a variety of fields.

Melissa Feuer, the CPS interim dean, opened the online discussion, “The Changing Nature of Higher Education and Career Transitions,” noting that one of the college’s unique characteristics  “is that it produces leaders in many different fields. Each of these fields is especially relevant to the challenges and opportunities the world currently faces.”

She highlighted the academic mastery and practical experience the college offers in information technology, cybersecurity, homeland security, publishing, paralegal services, political management and health care corporate compliance.

The alumni panelists were Janis Nicholas, B.P.S. ’21, manager, IT Service Delivery, GW Office of Technology Services; Randy Townsend, M.P.S. ’11, director, publication operations, American Geophysical Union and editor-in-chief, GW Journal of Ethics in Publishing; and Nikita Thompson,  CERT ‘20, ’21. The discussion was moderated by Nicole Mintz, CPS director of career services.

Mr. Townsend was pursuing a career in journalism with a bachelor’s degree in communications before realizing, he said, how competitive the job market was. A temporary job at the American Geophysical Union introduced him to the world of digital publishing that he came to love, and led, he said to pursuing a master’s degree in publishing after he saw an advertisement for CPS’ publishing program.

“I was taking night classes, working full time during the day,” he said, while his wife was at home on bedrest with a high-risk pregnancy. “I’m gone all day really into the evenings as well, working through this master’s program.”

The other panelists also described juggling personal and professional responsibilities while completing CPS programs in pursuit of career goals—Ms. Nicholas, working on a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity while handling GW’s technical services during a pandemic and caring for two children, and Ms. Thompson, a single mother pursuing a master’s degree in paralegal studies while working 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. as an administrator at the U.S. Senate.

The benefit of the program for Ms. Nicholas was that classwork dovetailed with real-life, which as the interim IT director at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences involved preparing all faculty, students and staff to work online until the pandemic was under control.

“So, it was a lot of prep work on top of schoolwork on top of the kids and trying to manage my time through all of that,” she said. “I feel like CPS made it extremely easy because our classes, all of the instructions, were set. This is what we are doing, this is the plan.”

CPS’s support was reinforced by the cooperation of the larger university community, she said.

Ms. Thompson said the coursework for the paralegal certification program was so dense she wasn’t sure she was absorbing the information until she had to review a contract during an internship and suggested to the attorney that current law might not apply. She said, he responded, “Nice catch.” She was so excited she emailed her professor.

For Mr. Townsend, combining the work experience, coursework and networking has opened areas in publishing he had not considered, in particular a CPS ethics class that led to his becoming the staff liaison when the American Geophysical Union revamped its ethics policy

“Just staying in touch, finding out what’s going on and coming full circle to being an associate professor in the program and the editor-in-chief of the journal that was just launched, it is really rewarding,” he said. “I want to give back in the same way this program has given to me.”

As the discussion came to a close, Ms. Feuer said that in order to stay relevant the college will consider new ways to operate such as giving credit for work experience and skills people have acquired before coming to GW and offering “smaller bite size pieces… to enhance the career [people] are already in. . .to add to what they’re already doing or to see where they want to go.”



University News


Acting Dean of College of Professional Studies Announced

August 06, 2020

Melissa Feuer, the college’s associate dean for student and academic affairs, will begin her new role on Sept. 1.