Shaun Zahradka graduated from Northcentral Technical College in Wausau in 1998 with an associate degree in laser technology. For two years, he worked at Balliu MTC in Lokeren, Belgium, before returning to the states.
Over the next 10 years, Zahradka was an application and installation engineer, traveling the world and installing machines on six continents. But when he and his wife decided to start a family, they settled down in Rapids City, Ill. Zahradka is now the operations manager at Lincoln Electric’s facility in Bettendorf, Iowa.
When Zahradka began to think about going back to school for a degree in management, he listened to his family’s advice. Zahradka’s wife and her grandfather are UW-Stout alumni. And his brother-in-law is a graduate of UW-Stout’s management program.
“It made the most sense for me to have my bachelor’s in management, for my current job and my future goals,” he said.
His home in Illinois was a long way from UW-Stout. But with online programming, Zahradka was nearer to reaching his goals.
Online degree gives back time and experience
For Zahradka, it all came down to time. Most of his credits from Northcentral transferred to UW-Stout, saving him roughly two years. And the flexibility of the online program allowed him to set his own pace, taking three classes a semester, including summer courses.
He could complete his coursework during his lunch hour, after his sons went to bed or on the weekends.
“I would never have completed the classes if I had to go to a brick and mortar school,” he said.
With the variety of concentrations available through the program, Zahradka chose a concentration in operations management, which suited his current position perfectly. He was also able to use his work experience for his required internship, applying lessons to his work and relate his real world experience back to his studies.
“My whole approach to the program was shaped by my past experiences and helped me get more out of the program,” he said.
Zahradka’s work experience also helped him during his capstone class in which he worked with a local business on a human resources project.
“Even though it was a different industry, there were a lot of items that I could present from my work history to further the project,” he said.
Starting his online master’s in the Dual Level program
Now, Zahradka is looking forward to starting his master's in operations and supply management, something he never thought he’d do. But with the approval of the Dual Level program in April 2020, a second online degree was within Zahradka’s reach.
The Dual Level option allows students the opportunity to apply for a UW-Stout online master’s degree when they are within 30 credits of graduating with their bachelor’s. The three master’s programs are operations and supply management, risk control and safety management, and training and human resource development.
Pending acceptance of dual enrollment, Program Director Renee Surdick will advise students about coursework that can be applied towards their management degree and master’s degree simultaneously.
With careful planning, students can finish their undergraduate degree with up to nine credits already in place towards their master’s in operations and supply management or risk control and safety management, and up to three credits towards training and human resource development.
“The management program is the only program on campus currently implementing the Dual Level option,” Surdick said. “We are piloting the process with the three master’s degree programs for the next year.”
A day after the Dual Level program was approved, Zahradka was accepted into the master’s program, becoming the first student from UW-Stout’s management program to do so.
Time, again, was a large factor for Zahradka. The Dual Level program reduces the amount of time he needs to obtain his master’s. The dual credits also save him money, which helps, he said.
“To students thinking about their master’s, I’d say, if you qualify and are interested in a graduate-level education, the Dual Level program is a no-brainer,” he said.
Zahradka hopes to earn his bachelor’s and master’s both in fives years. He’ll graduate with his bachelor’s in December 2020.