In fall of 2020, Jacob Fuher was getting ready to graduate with an engineering degree from the University of Michigan. He was talking to several companies and was hoping to receive a few different job offers. Fuher’s field – electrical and computer engineering – was growing, and his skills were in high-demand. But then, things started to change – there was a global pandemic, then a massive shutdown, and then a near-universal hiring freeze. In a matter of weeks, Fuher’s future plans were put in jeopardy, and he had to reconsider what he was going to do.
“It really didn’t seem like I was going to have a job after graduation there for a while,” Fuher said. “I went back and started thinking about other goals of mine and how I could use this as an opportunity.”
Though Fuher was trained as an engineer, he always had a passion for teaching. He took a few engineering education courses while at the University of Michigan and really enjoyed them. He was particularly interested in the prospect of teaching college courses. But to do that, he would need a graduate degree – at least a master’s degree. So, Fuher started thinking more seriously about continuing his education and going back to school.
“At the time, businesses were shut down, campuses were shut down...the only thing being offered was online programs,” Fuher said. “I realized that there were some engineering graduate programs that I could probably complete online, and I knew that would help me in the future if I wanted to teach.”
When considering graduate programs, Fuher knew that, no matter what, he’d have to complete at least part of the program online. However, many universities didn’t have established online engineering programs – they haphazardly moved their engineering programs online during the pandemic, and the result was often chaotic and disorganized. Joining an established virtual program would cut down on the uncertainty and yield higher-quality results, Fuher thought.
After researching online engineering programs that had been around for a few years, Fuher stumbled across Purdue’s online Master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MSECE). He quickly realized that the program met all of his requirements – it was an established, award-winning online degree; it was offered by a prestigious engineering university; and it had flexible schedule that would allow Fuher to go to school part-time.
“I didn’t want to put my career on hold while I pursued my master’s degree,” Fuher said. “I wanted to be able to achieve this goal while still having a life, even though I wasn’t sure, at the time, when things were going to be normal again.”
Luckily, Fuher didn’t have to wait very long to resume his career trajectory. After a few months of frustrating job searches, Fuher received an offer from General Motors to work as a service release engineer. When he told General Motors about his plans to go to graduate school at Purdue part-time, they agreed to cover his tuition expenses.
“It ended up working out great,” Fuher said. “I had a job lined up, and they were supportive of me going back to school part-time and getting another degree. One of the great things about Purdue’s program is that they’re very supportive of students who are working, and they worked with me to make sure I could do both the job and the degree program.”
Since Fuher was working full-time at General Motors, he started the online MSECE degree by taking one course at a time. By limiting his course load, Fuher was able to strike a good balance between school and his other responsibilities. He had time to devote to his job, and he also had time to devote to his social life, which, in turn, helped him navigate the stress of starting graduate school.
“Being able to have a life outside school is so important, whether it’s for work or for fun,” Fuher said. “I’m really glad I can work towards this degree consistently but also still have time for my job and my friends. It’s important for stress release and just feeling balanced. A lot of graduate students can’t say that.”
Fuher also enjoyed the structure and content of his online classes. All the MSECE’s online courses are taught by the same professors who teach on campus, so online students learn alongside residential graduate students. Knowing that the online courses are identical in quality and rigor to campus courses helped Fuher feel like he was getting a world-class education.
“I’ve really enjoyed all of my professors, and you can tell how experienced they are and how much expertise they have,” Fuher said.
Another part of Purdue’s program that stuck out to Fuher was how practical the courses are. Rather than focusing on theoretical topics, many of Purdue’s courses are project-based and teach students how to practically apply engineering concepts and theories. According to Fuher, this makes Purdue’s engineering curriculum relevant to working professionals.
“I took a digital signal processing course and a hybrid electric vehicle course, and the projects we did really stuck with me,” Fuher said. “A lot of programs will have you doing super theoretical work, or completing these complex math equations by hand, and it doesn’t really speak to what it’s actually like to be an engineer. Since I was already working, the practical application was really helpful.”
Currently, Fuher is about halfway through with the online MSECE, and he plans to graduate in spring of 2025. Though he’s still figuring out his exact goals, Fuher hopes that the program will help him get a foot in the door as an engineering educator.
“Teaching has always been an interest of mine, and I know with this degree that will be possible,” Fuher said. “With a master’s degree, it’s possible to teach at the university level, especially at community colleges and regional schools. In a few years, I’d like to be able to do that.”
To learn more about Purdue’s online MSECE program, please visit the program’s webpage.