Making the Decision, Taking the Leap

Tiffany Carpenter on the Marting quad

By Tiffany Carpenter

It’s 4 a.m. I’m standing in my PJs sipping hot tea at a Hampton Inn off Skyhawk Parkway in Martin, Tennessee. My two little girls can’t sleep. I decide to take them down to the hotel pool while my husband finishes up his beauty rest. Did I mention this is graduation day? I’m a full-time working mom and wife, and today is my special day. I’m officially getting my MBA! It’s been a long journey to get here, but after 22 months of late-night study sessions, I made it.

The decision to go back to school wasn’t an easy one for me. Attaining a master’s degree in business administration was something I had thought about since finishing my undergraduate program, but the timing just never seemed right. I attempted a program a couple of years removed from undergrad, but I was traveling for work quite a bit, which made going to class on a regular schedule impossible.

A few years ago, I began exploring the idea again. Online technology had made pursuing a college degree a lot easier, so I was no longer tied to sitting in a traditional classroom for several hours a night, and my options for grad school were no longer limited by my geographic location. I decided to look at options both in Tennessee and nationally. As a working mother of two, I needed a program that would allow me to do classwork and homework around my already busy schedule, and I wanted something that would allow me to achieve my goals without putting an additional burden on my husband and kids.

I knew I needed a program flexible enough that I wouldn’t miss out on things with my girls, but I also needed structure to make sure, once I started, I was moving toward a degree as fast as possible. I found the perfect fit in the UT Martin Online MBA.

The online program gave me the flexibility to work on my MBA on my schedule. I could watch my class lectures during lunch or late at night. It was two classes a semester but only one class at a time, and while it was more intense, I didn’t have to worry about two finals in a week. I could concentrate on one subject at a time. The program was small, with fewer than 20 people in my cohort, and while we never met in person, we got to know each other through online group projects, and I never felt like I was doing the program on an island.

Tiffany Carpenter and family at UT MartinHaving the entire program mapped out for me before I began was another plus. I knew my schedule for the entire 21-month program before my first day of class, which allowed me to plan vacations around breaks. And even if we took a family vacation during a class, all I needed was my laptop, textbook and Wi-Fi, and I could stay on course no matter where I was.

I was apprehensive at first. I hadn’t been to school in almost 20 years, and I wasn’t a star student in undergrad. I wondered if I could really juggle a career, two kids, a husband and an MBA program. What I learned was that I was better at all of it because of it. I ended up graduating with honors. It taught me a lot about scheduling and being organized.

I always want to be a great role model for my girls. Having the opportunity to take them to Martin to see the campus and watch me walk across the stage was really special. And while my 3-year-old is too young to really remember it, my 8-year-old now tells everyone she’s going for her master’s degree. Mission accomplished.

Tiffany Utsman Carpenter (Knoxville ’96, Martin ’15) is assistant vice president for marketing for the University of Tennessee System.