UWW student spotlight: meet Jay Novack

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

After several years as a highly successful businessman, 51 year old Jay Novack discovered his true passion accidentally while volunteering as a substitute teacher.  With the help of his advisor Karen Stevens, Jay has incorporated multiple education courses into his degree that have allowed him to prepare for a second career as an early childhood educator.

Every non-traditional student has a story. What's yours?
I attended UMass Amherst from 1979-1983 with a major concentration in Communications Studies. I added some Marketing classes to my workload, as I wanted to graduate and work in advertising. Madison Avenue here I come! I accepted an internship during my junior year at a local in-house ad agency and it threw off my schedule for finishing my degree. Although I was just a handful of credits short of my degree I attended graduation with my class after promising myself I would complete my degree as soon as possible.

I was hired by a high tech publishing company in their advertising department before the summer of 1983 ended and worked there for more than 10 years. While my professional career continued on a path forward my interest in completing my degree grew smaller and smaller in my personal rear view mirror.

Fast forward and I am working as a very successful sales manager at a high tech start up during the dot.com bubble. It was a great opportunity but not a sure bet by any means. And as the industry took a turn and the bubble burst I was laid off. In looking for a job during this career transition I was asked about my education and lack of degree by several hiring managers. Even after all that time away from college my lack of a degree was coming back to haunt me! My “But I’m so close…” pleas failed to impress any hiring manager.

Recently, while again out of work for a short period of time, I volunteered to help out at my local schools as a substitute teacher. And it was there that I met a teacher who was about to retire. She was energetic even for her years and controlled the classroom like an actress combined with the best business manager rolled into a comedy act. She was the teacher I wish I had when I was in school. Engaging yet demanding. And at that moment I wondered if I could do that. Could I be a teacher at age 50 and make a difference like she was? I immediately looked into the idea and found out that to be a teacher and get a Massachusetts teaching license you need a Bachelor’s degree.

I now knew what I had to do. And a visit to Amherst and a meeting with Karen Stevens convinced me that UWW was the program for me.

Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?
I chose UMass Amherst UWW to complete my degree for several reasons. I knew that I would be able to use all of my class credits from my four years of studies there versus attending another program that would accept less. Secondly, I needed a 100% online approach with a great tradition for success and UWW time and again received high marks by independent reviewers.

What is the best part about being a UWW student for you?
The best part about being a UWW student is that I can use my past business know-how and expand on those real-life learning lessons I have experienced and apply them through course writing. My Prior Learning Portfolio I will produce will lead to my degree. Secondly, I have been able to take other online classes through UMass Amherst that personally interest me and gain the credits and requirements needed to graduate. To date I have taken Education, Comparative Literature and History courses which I not only enjoyed tremendously, but counted as core requirements towards my degree.

What's been your favorite class at UMass Amherst so far?
While I am only a month or so in to it, I think my UWW 370 Writing About Experience course is going to turn out to be my favorite. UWW 310 Experiential Reflection of the Technological World allowed me to successfully apply my high tech knowledge to the course requirements. And History 170 Indigenous Peoples gave me an understanding of the history of Native Americans which interested me quite a bit since I am part Indian.

What have been the benefits of taking your classes online?
Taking classes online gives me a greater flexibility to pick and choose classes that interest me and not have to balance any type of class scheduling conflicts when it comes to my work and family. I presently work from home in high tech sales and I’m able to balance that schedule with my family life (wife, 2 children and a cat) and still work on my degree through UWW.

How do you balance work, school and family? What advice do you have for other adult students?
I highly recommend UWW for anybody in a similar situation to mine – someone who has been away from college for a long period of time – and wants to complete their degree. I feel the combination of working 100% online and having the class schedules be flexible to accommodate “real life” is best. I balance work, school and family by setting and abiding by daily/weekly/monthly schedules. I carve out time for my UWW work each and every week. I also make sure that I read – and re-read – the class syllabus so I know what is scheduled and when. It can be easy to fall behind with an online course and think that you can make it up. This type of thinking can lead to problems. I also try to connect with my online instructors as soon as I decide I will be taking their class.  I also try to make sure that I have ordered the required texts way before the start of the course as I’ve seen other students fall behind immediately since they do not have the required text when the class begins.

What are your future plans, professionally and personally?
My goal is to start a second-career in teaching within the next 12-18 months. I continue to be highly successful in my high tech sales career but I have developed a passion for teaching ever since I started to volunteer within the local schools in my community. I feel I can take the experiences and knowledge I have gained in my professional career and apply them to a career as an educator.

Tell readers something cool about yourself that no one would guess about you.
During my high tech sales career I have travelled to 40 of the 50 United States as well as to most of Europe and parts of Asia. Being a huge sports guy it was an amazing experience when I met both Wayne Gretzky and Brett Favre in the same day while working at a trade event. In my spare time I enjoy riding my Harley Davidson Road King around and through the Pioneer Valley. I also am a huge Grateful Dead aficionado having toured with the band for a period. I also was an official photographer of the band working for a Grateful Dead inspired magazine for a number of years.