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Jim Bruner, ODOT District 4 geographical information systems (GIS) Coordinator
Jim Bruner earned his master's degree in engineering to gain job security. He began working for the Ohio Department of Transportation's District 4 as a college intern in construction during the summers of 1997 and 1998, while attending Youngstown State University and earning his bachelor's degree in engineering.
Then, in the summer of 1999, Bruner worked in Ravenna as a college intern in the planning department performing GIS duties for the district. After graduating, he was encouraged to continue his education and study for his master's degree to be eligible for the EIT program that was going to be reinstated in 2000.
"I knew that if I wanted to stay on, I needed to go for my master's degree," Bruner said.
Bruner paid for his first several semesters out of his own pocket, but then was able to qualify for OCSEA's educational assistance.
"It was the reason I was able to do it," Bruner said. "I saved a lot of money."
Bruner worked full time and took classes in the evening at Youngstown State University. He actually doubled up on coursework for the last year to finish his degree. "
It's definitely beneficial," Bruner said of the benefit. "It's a great program."
Bruner added that he appreciated that eligibility doesn't depend on the letter grade a student receives.
"I'm glad I took advantage of it," Bruner said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have my master's degree."
Heather Smith-Roberts, programmer specialist 2 for ODOT District 5
Although she earned her master's degree from the University of Findlay, Heather Smith-Roberts has never stepped foot on the campus.
"My friend's daughter is a student there," Smith-Roberts said. "I asked her "How does it look."
Smith-Roberts completed her degree in business administration completely online. Her classes would meet several times a week and all conversation was done through real-time chatting. That was an advantage when it came to note-taking and reviewing.
"You had the whole conversation and could re-read it," she said. Smith-Roberts decided to pursue her degree for personal development.
"You never know the future," she said. "This gave me more confidence and a feeling of achievement."
Although she put in many long nights of studying after working days, Smith-Roberts said that the effort was worth it."
As a mature worker, I appreciated the work and could apply it a lot more," she said. "It helped me to see ODOT as a business."
She praises OCSEA's Union Education Trust and its predecessor, Workforce Development, for being easy to use. It made getting her degree financially possible, as well.
"The union's education benefit was a huge factor," Smith-Roberts said. "If I had to pay for it all out-of-pocket, I don't know if I'd have done it."