WashU Employees Share Benefits of Taking University College Courses

The perk that full-time staff members get excited about when they join Washington University: taking University College undergraduate for-credit courses for free and graduate for-credit courses, up to 7 units per semester, for 50% of the tuition cost. But how many of us take advantage of this benefit? On November 10th, the spring 2022 course registration opened. Is now the time to consider what University College can offer you? To help you decide, Biology sat down with three staff members to learn about their experiences taking courses through University College.

Enriching the working experience 

Erin Gerrity is the department’s artist. Well, not officially. She is actually the Communications and Student Affairs Coordinator. A lot of the time, Gerrity works with students and faculty to navigate academic issues. Then there are times where the department relies on Gerrity for her artistic talents. Take the Biology Commons, for example. She chose the style and color of the furniture and floor tiles, creating a warm and welcoming space for students to study in and our community to gather in. For Gerrity, who has always been an artist, these tasks are enriching and fulfilling. 

Gerrity created a lot of art in high school and college. But as time went on, there were fewer opportunities for creating visual art. When she arrived at WashU, she was thrilled to see that a drawing class was offered at University College and enrolled. 

“It helped me explore concepts and techniques of drawing that I had not explored in a long time. This class also helped get me back to something that once was a big part of my life. That was special to me,” said Gerrity.

It also allowed her to be a student again. 

"I enjoyed being part of the university from the student perspective”, recalled Gerrity, who would run to class after work in the crisp fall air. The nighttime vibe on campus was very different than during the day - different people and a lot of bustling activity. 

Final project: still life that reflect the theme "road trip"
PC: Erin Gerrity

Being a student at University College comes with great responsibility. Some classes are time intensive. Gerrity recalls spending 20 hours on her final project involving drawing a still life that reflects the theme “road trip”. She put together a collage of things that might have been in her car at the time when she was doing more traveling.

“I did not have a lot of free time when I took the course. I knew I had to pass the class because if I did not, I would have to pay for it,” warned Gerrity, who suggested making sure to anticipate the workload for the course and your ability to commit to it for a few months. 

In the end, Gerrity thinks it is worth it and recommends all employees look into the benefit because taking courses is expensive, and we are offered the opportunity to learn for free. 

“These courses enrich your experience at work. The experience is another dimension of your life that you can explore for free,” said Gerrity. 

“These courses enrich your experience at work. The experience is another dimension of your life that you can explore for free,” said Gerrity. 

Visit the University College website to learn more and register for a course today.

Adding skill sets to your life

For the past 20 years, Jamie Mullin, Purchasing/Receiving Assistant in the Biology stockroom, has been saying he needs to get his bachelor’s degree. He is fully aware of the benefits of earning the degree, but it is easier said than done with conflicting responsibilities and little time. Not to mention the cost associated with going back to school. When Mullin accepted a position at Washington University and learned about the tuition benefit for full-time employees, he looked into it right away. 

Mullin

“I met with an advisor at University College and was able to transfer a few college credits that will count towards my degree. It is going to take me a while as I slowly pluck away at taking classes. But I realized if I had started slowly 20 years ago, I would already have that degree,” said Mullin. 

He started with Personal Finance, a course that would count towards his degree. He could also apply what he learned to his personal life. To Mullin, it felt like the right course to help him ease back into school. The course exposed him to a range of financial concepts, some he had never heard of before. 

“We went back to the basics and talked about saving and checking accounts and making a budget. We also learned about the stock market and 401 accounts. And then there is cryptocurrency, which I never heard about until I took this course,” said Mullin. 

Mullin's interest in cryptocurrency stuck. He reads press releases and follows experts who write about the topic. He has even invested in cryptocurrencies. At the same time, he was reminded, in the course, of the value of adding just 1% of his yearly salary increase to a 401(b) account, money, he said, he would not miss if he put it away immediately. 

“Everyone should consider taking a course. It is easy and flexible, and there are so many courses offered. You do not have to be looking for a degree. You can add skill sets to your life,” said Mullin. 

“Everyone should consider taking a course. It is easy and flexible, and there are so many courses offered. You do not have to be looking for a degree. You can add skill sets to your life,” said Mullin. 

 Visit the University College website to learn more and register for a course today.

Learning as a way of life

Meet Shanna Akley, Communications and Event Specialist working at WashU’s Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a self-proclaimed forever student. If going to school was a career path, it would be her chosen path. As a lover of learning, she counted down the months during the required one-year wait as a new employee before taking University College courses. Taking free courses was the benefit that drew Akley to WashU in the spring of 2018. 

But 2019 came soon enough, and Akley has been taking courses, one or two each semester, since then. Now at 12 courses, Akley does not see herself stopping any time soon. 

“I will probably be taking courses until I retire because it is important to keep learning,” said Akley, who recommends Effective Editing for anyone in a communications role looking to sharpen their writing and editing skills.

Akley is currently working on a business certificate to better understand various aspects of running a small business. She has been able to apply some of what she learns in class to her own business involving day-of-event coordination for weddings. Meanwhile, courses such as Marketing Concepts are helping her in her role at WashU.

Akley

“It is such a rewarding experience to learn new skills and put them into practice. It has been a nice way to connect the dots,” said Akley, who admits that fear prevents people from taking advantage of this benefit because it is difficult to get back into the routine of going to school after so many years. 

“But it is so wonderful to learn something new. It may take some time to dust off the cobwebs, but it is worth it to invest in yourself,” encouraged Akley. 

Her advice: take it slow, ease back into it, and choose a topic you are more comfortable with for your first class, something you know will be easier for you to commit to. And then be bold and take courses outside of your comfort zone. 

Her advice: take it slow, ease back into it, and choose a topic you are more comfortable with for your first class, something you know will be easier for you to commit to. And then be bold and take courses outside of your comfort zone. 

Great advice from someone who fearlessly tackled Calculus to understand the mathematics in the scientific papers she was reading when working at Washington University School of Medicine in the Department of Radiation Oncology. 

“For me personally, I think it is important to enhance skills even though I may not use them all the time. That was Calculus for me. It was a challenging but rewarding experience,” explained Akley. 

Visit the University College website to learn more and register for a course today.