Purdue online civil engineering master's graduate from Aruba, who earned his degree while working full time, plans to leverage it for a dream job
John Wardlaw earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Curaçao majoring in built environment with a specialization in civil engineering, but his career has taken him in a different direction – so far. His online master’s degree in civil engineering from Purdue University promises to change that.
After graduating in 2020, amid the global pandemic, Wardlaw went to work for Aruba’s Balashi Brewery and Tropical Bottling Company, working to convert the company’s management system from an on-site computer system to a cloud-based system. He’s now the company’s compliance coordinator, ensuring that it meets international quality, safety, environmental, and sustainability standards, including those of Coca-Cola, for which it is the only authorized bottler in Aruba.
Wardlaw’s career goal remained a job in civil engineering, however. He started thinking about earning a master’s right after finishing his undergraduate degree because, while that had given him broad knowledge of the field, he wanted to delve deeper and specialize, particularly in the structural aspects, both his strength as an undergraduate and his chief interest.
Because he had a full-time job and with COVID still a factor, an online master’s program made sense. As he researched his options, the Online Master’s in Civil Engineering from Purdue’s highly ranked College of Engineering and Lyles School of Civil Engineering stood out.
“Purdue is well known,” Wardlaw said. “It's a top-level university, has one of the best programs and I said why not? It's top two in the U.S. for online civil engineering programs. It should be very good. So, I applied.”
Although Purdue’s reputation was a selling point it wasn’t the main point. What really sold Wardlaw was the rigorous curriculum, including a customizable track emphasizing Infrastructure, Resiliency and Sustainability. The track focused on the latest advancements in the analysis, design and construction of civil infrastructure such as buildings, bridges, roadways, industrial facilities, and power plants. That was just what Wardlaw had in mind. (Purdue’s program also offers tracks in Sustainable Water and Smart Mobility.)
The challenging curriculum provided him not only with a deeper knowledge of the theory and science behind civil engineering practice but also their practical application. Purdue is well known for its emphasis on the practical.
In addition to the technical knowledge he gained, the flexible program allowed Wardlaw to explore project management tools and methodology through electives that exposed him, for example, to building information modeling as well as accounting and finance for infrastructure-related projects. It all fit with Wardlaw’s idea of a dream job, one combining civil engineering and project management.
Wardlaw ended up completing his master’s in four semesters, including one summer. He said that’s doable, but it required serious time management and giving up most of his leisure time (not to mention some sleep).
“It wasn't easy,” Wardlaw said. “It was a sacrifice, but it was worth it.”
He said the structure of Purdue’s program helped in managing the load. Assignments were divided into weekly segments that he needed to complete before moving on to the next segment. The path was mapped out at the beginning of each course and he received regular reminders about what was coming due. Although there were deadlines to meet each week, he could do the work when it fit his schedule.
“If it wasn't programmed like that, then it would be very difficult,” Wardlaw said. “The way it's structured is fantastic.”
Despite being in an online program, Wardlaw said he felt connected to the faculty, his fellow students and Purdue.
“You still get the sense that you're part of the Purdue experience,” Wardlaw said. “You’re a Boilermaker except you're an online student.”
Faculty members, the same internationally known educators and researchers who teach on Purdue’s flagship campus, were readily available one-on-one by email or in virtual office hours and interacted regularly with his peers and him in online discussion groups.
“You have discussions and that is a good learning experience because what I understand and how I apply it in Aruba is not the same as in the U.S.,” Wardlaw said. “Those interactions with multiple countries are valuable, you get the perspectives of people from India, people from Europe, all over the world.”
The sense of connectedness is one thing that prompted Wardlaw and his family to make a long trek from Aruba to the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, IN, for graduation, which he called “a once in a lifetime experience.” His undergraduate graduation took place during the pandemic. He didn’t even attend the virtual graduation ceremony. His undergraduate diploma was shipped to him by FedEx.
This time, he wanted to walk across the big stage and celebrate his giant leap with hundreds of other happy (and somewhat relieved) Purdue College of Engineering graduates, as well as tour Purdue’s campus.
Attending graduation in person also was a way of marking what earning his degree had done for him.
“It made me more self-aware and more trusting of myself, that I know what I'm doing,” Wardlaw said. “I'm more confident in what I do because of the structure and the guidance from Purdue via this online master's.”
For more information about Purdue University’s Online Master’s in Civil Engineering visit the program website.
Writer: Greg Kline, 765-426-8545, firstname.lastname@example.org