Science & Technology

Executive-style computer science master’s class graduates

The University of West Florida graduated the first class from the new executive-style, online Master of Science degree program with specialization in Computer Science Software Engineering Dec. 12 in the Civic Center in downtown Pensacola.

The format of the program, funded by a grant from Florida’s Great Northwest, allows students to complete their master’s degree in less than one year. It includes an option to pursue a certificate in medical informatics at the same time. Students graduating this month began the program in February 2009.

The 25 students in the first cohort give the program high marks.

“One of the things that stood out for me was the immediate relevance of what I was learning to my current job,” said Meg Kelly, a McKesson Provider Technologies senior programmer analyst at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. “I think that is something that might be of interest to other students or employers. I learned things that I used immediately at my workplace and that kind of return is rare, in my opinion.”

Kelly already has a master’s in Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland.

“I wasn’t actively looking at the time for a second master’s degree but when I read about the opportunity, I was very excited about the program and its structure, especially the focus on medical informatics and some of the more technical aspects of the software engineering degree,” she said.

The program was “an incredible journey” for Anne Henderson, another McKesson employee at Baptist Hospital.

“There was a degree of camaraderie among our cohort. We were all working so closely on the same things, dealing with similar stresses; we had a lot in common the last 10 months and all that adversity brought us closer together. It’s incredible to realize that we have gained many life-long friendships along with the education. And that is not something you would typically associate with online classes,” Henderson said. Clay Blackwelder, another soon-to-be graduate of the program, also praised the support of his classmates. “It was an insane amount of work and an insane amount to time to do it in, but you had this feeling that you were all in this together.”

Blackwelder, whose ’98 computer science undergraduate degree is also from UWF, said his job with Techsoft Software Service in Pensacola prepared him well for the accelerated program. “Working in the field for 11 years really helped me. (The program) would have been far too difficult with no background at all.”

To celebrate their own success, graduates of this first class decided to start their own scholarship fund for future SSE students.

Laura White, UWF Science and Engineering assistant professor and program director, said she received about a hundred applications for the 25 slots in the first class. Students already have been selected for the next class, which starts Jan. 7.

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Written by Susie Forrester, University Marketing Communications