Success Story

Building Skills and Staying Relevant

Though he already had a successful career in information technology at IBM, Michael McCawley decided to return to school to enhance his skills and complete his bachelor’s degree. When he discovered that leaders in the field of information retrieval taught at UMass Lowell, he knew this was the place for him.

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A Q&A with a Future Leader in IT Ethics

Tell us a little bit about your journey from high school to earning your bachelor’s degree.

Well, I went to Penn State, where I studied electrical engineering and physics. I haven’t worked in those fields in the last 30 years. I’m now at IBM; I’m an IT architect in the Watson Division. So now I’m starting a journey again to get some more skills, to make myself a little more relevant, to keep up with the millennials and generally, to move forward.

Were you able to transfer in your credits?

Yes, I transferred 90 credits. The full maximum.

How long did it take you to earn your Bachelor of Science in Information Technology?

About six years. I did it one class per semester so I could fit it in with my life. The online program really helped. I was able to manage my career and my responsibilities with my wife and my two kids, and still achieve this.

How has earning this degree helped you in your job?

It’s really helped me learn new things and gain some skills. I have more tools in the toolbox now when I need to solve problems. It’s really an asset, and UMass Lowell is well recognized so my peers are very interested in what I’ve been doing. I’ve actually hired two other UMass Lowell students as co-ops to work for me, so we’re training people that I met on campus. So that’s a nice start.

Why did you choose UMass Lowell?

Because of the quality of the program. UMass Lowell offered the courses that I wanted, and a number of the instructors are really tops in the fields that I’m interested in. I’ve actually had two professors who are recognized worldwide as leaders for information retrieval, so that’s why this is what I wanted to do.

What kind of impact do you think you earning a degree later in life will have on your children?

I think it sets a nice example. If I’m willing to work hard to achieve a goal, then it demonstrates that idea more than telling them about it will. So when I tell them to study hard, they’ve been able to see that I’m studying hard.

How did you like the online learning experience?

You have to work at it; it doesn’t happen automatically. The easiest thing to do is to just show up online, get your assignment, do your work and submit it. But if you put more into it — if you actually go out of your way to be friendly to people — it generally sparks something and gets the ball rolling. It’s a little harder to make friends online, but it’s not that hard. The ball is in your court, and you have to make the most of it.

What did you like about the program itself?

Mostly, the diverse skills I was able to develop. In the IT field, you have to be knowledgeable about all IT things. And in this program, I was able to do that. I took one or two classes in lots of different things rather than five or six classes on one topic for deep skills. And that was really what I was looking for.

What are your plans for the future?

I eventually want to get a Ph.D. in IT ethics. I work at a company that deals with artificial intelligence (AI), and we have a lot of questions as a society about whether or not we should have AI and what kind of limits there should be. It’s a wide-open field and I think it’s important. Someone needs to start asking questions about these kinds of things. We need thought leaders in this field, and I would like to be one of those leaders.

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