Degrees at Work: Joanna Lew

Some degrees provide students a start toward a desired profession. Others provide employees in-depth enhancement of knowledge and training necessary to advance in their current careers.

Take Excelsior College graduate, Joanna Lew. The Pennsylvania native was a nuclear operator for nearly seven years when she considered adding to her higher education credentials. Working at one of the United States’ largest power production facilities in Tonopah, Arizona, she served as an instructor within Arizona Public Service’s Operations Department, guiding non-licensed operators through initial and continual training.

But in order to advance in her profession and be more equipped to educate the next generation of nuclear operators, Lew knew she needed the comprehensive training accessible through a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering technology. After learning of the ability to transfer credits from her time with the U.S. Navy and a previous bachelor’s program, Lew decided to pursue this degree with Excelsior College.

After graduating with a 3.66 GPA in 2017, the recipient of the College’s prestigious Dr. Robert L. Long Award for Academic Excellence in Nuclear Engineering Technology is now surging forward with U.S. energy provider Exelon, and she’s glad she chose to enhance her vocational expertise with Excelsior.

“The degree has helped to solidify my technical understanding, as well as open future doors for advancement,” said Lew. “There are potential opportunities that would not be an option for me if I did not have the NET degree.”

The degree in nuclear engineering technology was her second bachelor’s degree, and she says having the degree was one of the reasons she was accepted into the Villanova School of Business, where she started on her MBA in summer 2017.

The opportunities came at work, too. She was recently promoted to a supervisor in I&C (instrumentation and controls) maintenance after serving as acting maintenance and technical training manager from October 2018 through January 2019. Prior to that, she had been the lead instructor for Exelon’s non-licensed initial and continuing training programs. For that position, Lew notes her leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and experience in the industry was critical to her developing a high proficiency in the material she reviewed with future operators-in-training. But with her nuclear engineering technology focus during her time with Excelsior, Lew was able to deepen her topical knowledge for the benefit of her fellow instructors, as well as of her current and future classes.

“I used my nuclear engineering technology degree regularly when discussing technical plant design and operation with my operations students,” says Lew.

That’s one of the benefits of successfully navigating a program renowned for adjusting to professional trends and providing students with the most up-to-date understanding of industry needs. This helped Lew hone her aptitude in her career field, then take that career to the next level. Now that she’s there and thriving, she can look back at the experience as enriching—and viable for others seeking the same professional enhancement.

“Earning my degree with Excelsior was rewarding,” says Lew. “It was the culmination of years of hard work, and I’m proud to have done it. I recommend it to a lot of people in my industry.”

More from Joanna Lew:

Networking tips

For those in a specified field like nuclear training, networking tips directed toward industry personnel or fellow workers in the field would be the norm. But for Lew, she sees non-associated entities just as important for individuals looking to make professional connections. “Get involved with outside organizations,” says Lew, “like non-profits or your local chamber of commerce.”

Time management

The typical Excelsior student juggles multiple commitments outside the coursework necessary for eventual degree completion. Lew was no different, but she was successful by abiding by a stable schedule. “Make sure you are consistent,” she says. “If discussion questions are due every Thursday, make sure you set time aside before their due date.”

Find your motivator

Everyone needs help to find a successful end of an educational path. It takes a lot of time and work—and with plenty of obstacles thrown in the way—so you need something pushing you to completion. For Lew, desire for her degree drove everything. “The finish line was my motivator,” says Lew. “Being in my industry for 10 years when I graduated, it was important for me to earn my degree, and prove I am capable of the technical just as much as the non-technical aspects of the job.”

The best advice she’s received on the job—so far

One would assume that impactful career advice doled out in a nuclear training sector would be too scientific for mainstream consumption. Not the case. According to Lew, the most useful advice she’s received is applicable to any student, in any career—and pertains to professional attire. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”