By Katharine Webster
Gabrielle Davis, who comes from the tiny town of Philomath, Ind., always had big dreams. But she had to defer them a while.
In high school she’d planned on going to college for chemistry, but she married a nuclear electrician for the Navy and they had two children.
In 2009 they divorced and he was posted to Connecticut. Davis wanted the children to be near their father, but far enough away so she could establish her own identity, and decided Lowell was the perfect place to resume her education – on a budget. After earning an associate’s degree in liberal arts at Middlesex Community College, she transferred to the university as a Peace and Conflict Studies major.
“It was a calling. When I looked at everything I’d done in my life, I was always invested in social justice issues,” she says.
Now she’s pursuing her master’s degree in the same field while juggling her family responsibilities and volunteering at Made in Lowell, a nonprofit that hosts community-building events. The accelerated program is saving her time and money that she can put toward a Ph.D. some day.
“I have big dreams,” she says. “I want to pursue a doctorate.”
Davis has joined a small but growing number of students pursuing a bachelor’s-to-master’s track in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The college offers seven master’s degrees that qualify for the option, including brand-new degrees in public administration and history. The others are criminal justice, security studies, peace and conflict studies, autism studies and community social psychology.
The university has streamlined its requirements in the past two years, allowing undergraduates with a 3.0 GPA or higher to complete two to four graduate classes that “double-count” toward both degrees. They can also apply without paying a fee or taking the Graduate Record Exam.
“It’s a significant savings of time and money, and there’s no cost and no loss to the student even if they decide not to do it,” says Debbie White, director of graduate administration.
Students can also pursue a master’s in a program other than their undergraduate major, defer admission, attend part or full time and, in some programs, take a combination of online and on-campus classes.
Andrew Harris, the college’s associate dean of research and graduate studies, says combining the two degrees not only makes financial sense, but puts students in a better position as they start their careers.
“The goal of every master’s program is to teach students very specific skills they can take out into the marketplace,” he says.
But there’s nothing to prevent students from working while they complete their advanced degrees. And some employers welcome recent graduates who are continuing their studies.
Renoel Amogawin '16, who graduated this spring as a criminal justice major, is a perfect example. He found out about the B.A.-to-M.A. option his junior year and applied for a master’s in security studies with a homeland defense concentration.
“The whole process was easy,” he says. “I just had to get a couple of recommendations and put in my application. It was cake.”
He completed two graduate classes before getting his B.A. this spring. Now he’s working full time as a behavioral counselor at a juvenile detention center and studying full time, too. That means three online classes this summer, one online and two on-campus classes this coming fall and one more class, plus his thesis, next spring.
“I like the pressure,” says Amogawin, who hopes to get a job with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a field agent or investigator.
Lauren Gary says she appreciates the synergy between her undergraduate degree in psychology, her job and her graduate studies. At one point, she felt like it was taking forever to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, working with children on the autism spectrum.
“I felt stuck,” she says.
Gary spoke to Assoc. Prof. Richard Serna, graduate coordinator for the M.S. in Autism Studies. He advised her to pursue the bachelor’s-to-master’s option, recommended graduate classes she could take her senior year and helped her get a job that will eventually count toward the hours she needs for certification.
“I got a job in the field of behavioral therapy right off the bat,” she says. “Before I even graduated, I was doing what I wanted.”