College can be better the second time around. It was for Jody Knowles who will graduate May 21 from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) degree
, with highest distinction.
Knowles first entered college in 1979, attending Michigan State University. She wanted to study journalism, a passion she discovered in high school. “I loved school,” she said, “but I also wanted to experience life after high school. So after my first year at MSU, I put my college education on hold. “Then, with all the things I experienced – having a career, a house, a baby, getting married – I only got to read when I had free time.”
She did manage to earn an associate’s degree before moving to Charlottesville in 1990, where she worked briefly for the Daily Progress. From the newspaper, she worked her way into radio public relations and marketing, and then landed in human resources, where she worked for the next 20 years, most recently in UVA’s School of Medicine.
Though she had work and life experience, she did not have a bachelor’s degree, and Knowles knew that held her back. “I felt I’d progressed well in my career, but I know there were jobs I wasn’t considered for where a bachelor’s degree was required,” she said. “If you don’t check that box, your application is rejected.”
While working, Knowles raised a son through getting a divorce and then getting married a second time. His departure for college rekindled thoughts of higher education. She mulled her options and chose UVA’s Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) program. “I knew I wanted to be at UVA,” she said. “I’d heard good things about BIS and how it works with a professional’s schedule. I contacted the BIS office and they worked with me to make it happen.”
Part of the preparation for UVA included taking additional credits at Piedmont Virginia Community College. “This was a great trial run,” Knowles said, “to see if I could handle taking classes along with a full-time career.”
Knowles said going back to school forced her to sacrifice personal time – not just for her, but for her family as well. But she said the effort had many benefits. “I have grown so much intellectually,” Knowles said. “You come into a program such as this with ideas about things. The program challenged my ideas, made me think about them differently, and challenged my opinions.”
Knowles started BIS in 2013 and took one course each term, including summer and January terms. Some of the courses were online, but most she took in-person at UVA. She applied some of her human resources experience in helping her fellow students and by becoming a peer mentor. “I enjoy helping people be successful,” she said. “That’s why I’m in human resources. In the classroom, I was working with people who were 20 to 30 years younger than me. They are such bright people. I consider my fellow students to be lifelong friends.”
Knowles credits her experience in the program with developing herself. “Without this program, I would not have the confidence to write again, the eagerness to read again, the enthusiasm to put together a project, and the patience to compose a capstone paper,” she said.
Now that she has completed her bachelor’s degree, Knowles is considering an online Master of Education program, focused on lifelong learning and adult education. “I have a bachelor’s degree and 20 years of experience,” she said. “I’m not sure what my future will hold, but I will never stop learning.”