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University Center provides pathways to advanced degree completion
By Diane VanDyke
Following his graduation from Boyertown Area Senior High, Thomas Schiel was undecided about what he wanted to do, so he got a maintenance job with Boyertown Area School District. Then, in 2001, he started taking classes at Montgomery County Community College’s West Campus in Pottstown when he was 21 years old. However, after the birth of his daughter, life got busier, and he stopped taking classes.

Fast forward a few years, Schiel decided to return to Montgomery when he was 28 years old, and he finished his associate’s degree in Liberal Studies in 2013, graduating summa cum laude and a proud member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

Motivated by his accomplishment, he decided to continue with his bachelor’s degree. With two young daughters, however, he needed to continue working full-time to support his family while taking classes part-time with minimal commuting time.

Fortunately, he found his solution at the University Center at Montgomery County Community College.

“A counselor recommended Albright College’s Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology and Organizational Behavior program held at the University Center,” Schiel recalls. “Located right in Pottstown, it was convenient, and with the accelerated classes, I could see the end.”

Albright’s 24-month program involves classes one evening per week from 6 to 10 p.m. at the University Center located at 95 S. Hanover Street, only a short distance from Montgomery’s South Hall building at 101 College Drive.

Schiel enrolled in the program, and two years later, he graduated in December 2015 with a 4.0 and a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society.

“I was in a nice cohort of about 13 students,” he said. “The program was challenging at times, but do-able, and I was able to work and still spend time with my family. I would recommend this program to anybody. If you do the work and stay on top of the assignments, you can accomplish your degree.”

Schiel’s story doesn’t end with this recent achievement, though. He soon will be starting Chestnut Hill College’s Master of Science in Administration of Human Services in spring 2016 at the Pottstown University Center. Similar in structure to Albright’s program, this accelerated program will enable Schiel to have his master’s degree by 2018, he says.

The University Center was formalized in 2006, although Albright College offered programs at both campuses for a few years prior.

In August 2012, the College moved the West Campus classes to 95 S. Hanover Street into a renovated 10,500 square-foot building, which was the formerly used by the American Automobile Association. The Center houses six classrooms with smart boards and videoconference technology and has a comfortable student lounge. The entire facility is secured with electronic key-card access and a front desk concierge to greet students and visitors.

Through the University Center’s partnerships with select four-year institutions, students can now choose from 13 degrees and programs with Albright College, Chestnut Hill College, Immaculata University or Temple University. Programs are held at the University Center in Pottstown and in Parkhouse Hall at Central Campus in Blue Bell.

While Schiel continues his studies to earn his master’s degree at the University Center, Jenna Saylor of Pottstown finished her master’s degree in Administration of Human Services through Chestnut Hill College’s program at the University Center in December 2015.

“I started in September 2013 and took two accelerated courses during each eight-week semester,” said Saylor, who graduated from Owen J. Roberts High School in 2005 and from York College with her bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 2009. “I worked full-time for a few years to pay off my school loans. I looked at other colleges for my master’s, but they were not as flexible or convenient.”

Furthermore, Saylor found the University Center’s environment to be supportive and encouraging.

“The classes are small and intimate, with the average size around 10 students,” she explains. “The classes are not lecture-based, but more like a roundtable discussion with everybody engaged.”

The small class size also appealed to Dr. Mark McFadden, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Montgomery, who recently completed his Doctorate of Education in Higher Education through Immaculata University at Central Campus.

“I was part of Immaculata’s inaugural Higher Education, which began in fall 2011,” McFadden’s explains. “The program follows a cohort model, which really fostered a strong connection between my classmates and me. All the classes were run in a hybrid format. In the spring and fall semesters, we met one night every other week for about 4.5 hours and much of the work was completed online.”

The convenience of the location and format of the program made his goal possible, he explains.
“Prior to this program, if I wanted to complete a doctoral degree, I would have to travel to Philadelphia or the Lehigh Valley. Because of my work and family requirements, I limited my search to local universities within a half hour from my house,” he said, noting that he needed his doctorate for advancement in his career.

“Now that I am finished, I am overwhelmingly excited and proud that I did it. The fact that for the rest of my life, my students will call me ‘Dr. McFadden’ is just a great feeling, and I am glad I finished.”

Convenience was a key factor for enabling Calista Boyer to earn her master’s degree in Curriculum Instruction and Technology from Temple University in Pottstown in 2005.

“I reside in Pottstown and Temple provided everything I needed at the Center, including counseling, testing and making payments. The classes were offered at convenient times, so I was able to continue working full-time as a teacher,” said Boyer, who is the principal at Lincoln Elementary School in Pottstown. “The degree opened more opportunities for me.”

After obtaining her master’s degree, she became an instructional coach teaching reading programs to elementary school teachers throughout the district. She also continued her education, earning her principal certification from Alvernia University in 2006 and then her reading specialist certification from Cabrini College. She became a principal for Edgewood Elementary School in 2011, and when the school closed, she moved into her current position.

“The program was phenomenal, and the professors were great,” she said.

For other students, like Marta Pecharo of Limerick, the University Center allows her to pursue her encore career. She completed her associate’s degree in Human Services at Montgomery, followed by her bachelor’s degree in Human Services from Chestnut Hill College and is now working on her Master of Science in Administration of Human Services through Chestnut Hill at the University Center.

“The transition has been smooth, and it’s great to be able to complete my degrees at an accelerated pace,” she said. “The advising is extraordinary with advisors who will guide and reassure you. This is truly the jewel in the crown for Montgomery County.”