‘A Bucket List To-Do’: One Student’s Path to a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management

Written by Amanda Wicks • Updated on

First-generation college student Rob Jaworski has always wanted to earn his master’s degree. It took the University of Colorado Boulder’s flexible online master’s program to make his dream a reality.

[Featured image] Rob Jaworski, a master's student at CU Boulder, stands on a beach wearing sunglasses and smiling.

Rob Jaworski, a student in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Master of Engineering in Engineering Management online program, has always wanted to earn his master’s degree. “My sister and I were the first in our family to go and finish college,” he said. “I want to be the first one to get a master’s.”

What started as a “bucket list to-do” eventually became a practical goal given the changing credentials in the tech industry. “I feel like everyone is kind of leveling up these days,” he said. “Everybody I work with—everyone who’s younger than me—just about all of them have completed their master’s. It’s good to keep your edge sharp.” 

But as can often happen with a larger goal, the timing never fell into place. After earning his bachelor’s degree in “essentially what could be described as technical management,” Jaworski dove straight into his career. He began working in engineering and software management at smaller software companies before eventually landing at the software giant Adobe, where he’s been for over 19 years. 

It wasn’t just the demands of his career that made the thought of going back to school feel daunting. Jaworski and his wife have two children. Between his family responsibilities and his professional ones, education always felt like a goal he could never quite prioritize. How could he possibly balance all of those competing demands? 

In 2009, Jaworski seriously considered earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA). He even purchased a GMAT prep book to study for the entrance exam that most graduate business programs require, but the introductory matter “stopped him cold.” It advised knowing what you want to do with an MBA before pursuing one. “I had no clue,” he recalled. “At the time, I didn’t want to become a project manager, I didn’t want to go into finance, I didn’t want to do the entrepreneurship thing. I didn’t have a good answer.” 

That tabled the matter for a bit. Then, a few years later, Jaworski began seeing more programs for software management, which felt closer to the kind of education he should earn to continue advancing in his career. But the program requirements were rigid. For starters, Jaworski would have faced a 30- to 45-minute commute each way. Then, there was the timeline. “They wanted you to be done in two years,” he said. “I had a not-quite-one-year-old at home, plus a five-year-old. It wasn’t the right time in my life to commit so intensely.” 

He eventually came across the University of Colorado Boulder’s Master of Engineering in Engineering Management (ME-EM) program offered online through Coursera. “I thought, ‘Wow, this actually looks good.’ I attended one of the information sessions and figured, ‘Yeah, this ticks all the boxes.’”  

Learn more: What is an Engineering Management Degree?

CU Boulder’s online master’s degrees offer performance-based admission, which entails taking three pathway courses in a related subject—like finance, project management, or principles of leadership in the case of the ME-EM degree. If you pass all three courses, you gain full admission to the program and that coursework counts toward your degree progress. It’s a way to make advanced education more accessible and more equitable—without formal applications, letters of recommendation, or college entrance scores, which can often be timely and costly to pull together. 

Jaworski did the Finance for Technical Managers pathway. “It was probably my best experience so far,”  he explained. “I found the material to be interesting, and I also think the instructor did a really good job.” What he learned wasn’t just theoretical in nature. He found himself applying what he was learning at work. “I deal with external vendors and we need to pay them, and sometimes we need to do justifications on return-on-investment,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, we’re talking about this right now in class.’ I was able to apply it right away.” 

The ME-EM degree program dovetails neatly with what Jaworski learned as an undergrad, but so much has happened in the years since that he feels as though he’s getting a much-needed refresh. “There’s so much new stuff that’s happened over the last couple of decades that I didn’t get exposure to back then or that didn’t exist before, like software development methodologies,” he said. “Learning that more formally in this kind of setting gives you different perspectives on it.” 

In a funny bit of timing, Jaworski may end up graduating the same year as his oldest daughter, who’s earning her bachelor’s degree at San Diego State. He’s already laughing about the possibility. “If it turns out that way, then we’re going to go to San Diego for her commencement,” he said, “and then immediately go to Boulder for mine.”  

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