Hayley Serruya wakes up early, makes a pot of coffee, spends a couple hours with her two-year-old son and puts in eight hours at her full-time job as a project manager for a manufacturing firm. But at the end of her long day, instead of putting up her feet, she cracks open a textbook and dives
into her homework.
This is the daily grind for Serruya, an undergraduate student in the Northwestern School of Professional Studies (SPS). She’s finishing her bachelor’s degree in organization behavior with a focus on business leadership, one of the 12 majors offered to undergraduate students. Right now, she’s enrolled in four courses, all of which she takes at night or during the weekend. Some of these, like Serruya’s Organizational Change lecture, are as long
as seven hours.
“[SPS] is full of a bunch of people who, for whatever reason in their life, didn’t go to school earlier,” Serruya says. “Everyone seems to be working really, really hard because most of them are professionals working in some sort of career and they’re all very
focused on finishing.”
“I always tell people not to underestimate what our students are capable of even though they’re going to class part time and at a later age."
- Peter Kaye
SPS is one of Northwestern’s 12 schools, with classes offered at the Evanston and Chicago campuses. At the undergraduate level, students can finish their degree, earn a certificate or take classes for personal fulfillment. SPS also offers graduate, post-baccalaureate and professional development programs. Northwestern employees who enroll in the school receive a discount on their tuition in an effort to encourage professional growth.
Students pay per course each quarter, giving them the flexibility to adjust their course load. Because of this, even though there are 1,236 active undergraduate students enrolled in SPS, only 573 are currently in an SPS course. Additionally, several students from Northwestern’s other six undergraduate schools petition to cross-enroll in SPS courses. Athletes, for example, can take evening classes to avoid conflicts with their game schedules. Similarly, SPS students may take daytime classes for the increased variety in offerings.
“There are certain things my students deal with that I never had much experience with as an undergraduate, things like kids or family obligations,” says Ben Dalgaard, who received his master’s degree in Information Systems from SPS and is now an undergraduate professor at the school. “But we have the same expectations of everyone. The students have the same commitment to their studies and homework. They just have to balance that.”
SPS hires part-time faculty, including industry leaders, as adjunct professors. Many professors teach in both the day school and SPS. Their SPS courses often mirror those in the day school, although professors may tailor the curricula to fit the experiences and needs of their students. Professors supplement instruction time and lab work with online learning tools like Yellowdig and Canvas discussion boards, Dalgaard says.
“If anything happens with school, work is always the first to go. School at this point is my number one priority. But it’s not easy. I don’t sleep a lot,” says Alexander Boone, who is completing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. “But our professors understand, so they allot for that when designing the curriculum, which is probably why I’ve done so well at SPS.”
Professors encourage students to consider situations in their day jobs while completing projects and assignments, allowing them to apply their learning to their work
and vice versa.
“You really get a sense of what is happening in the industry, and don’t just focus on the theoretical that happens in the classroom,” Dalgaard says. “That’s what sets it apart in my opinion – the mix of experiences from both the professors and the students.”
Because most of the students have professional careers, they have connections and job experience that other undergraduates may lack.
“My professional network explodes because of how distinguished some of my classmates are,” Boone says. “I end up being one or two degrees of separation away from some of the really prominent figures in the industries that I’m hoping to get into.”
Students sometimes use SPS as a stepping stone to graduate school or achieving professional goals.
“I always tell people not to underestimate what our students are capable of even though they’re going to class part time and at a later age,” says Peter Kaye, the assistant dean of undergraduate and postgraduate programs.
For those able to balance the workload, SPS offers an unconventional, but effective, way to further one’s education.
“I felt like there are just really so many more opportunities than beforehand,” Serruya said. “[I have] that feeling of ‘oh my gosh I can do anything now. I can become the governor!’”