Pursuing an online undergraduate degree or online graduate degree takes determination, self-discipline, and hard work … and a reliable Wi-Fi connection. The reach is surprising — just ask Julia M. J. Abbiss ‘15, ‘17 MS – Nonprofit Management, who discovered during a study-abroad experience that she could complete her coursework from just about anywhere, even halfway around the world in Nepal.
After graduating from Johnson & Wales University Providence Campus in 2015 with a degree in Tourism and Hospitality Management, Julia says, “I knew that I wanted to continue my education with the university but did not necessarily want to commit myself to the East Coast for another year—restlessness is a pretty common trait among us travel and tourism undergrads!”
Her wanderlust pairs perfectly with her decision to pursue her master’s degree through the Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education, and she’s been able to work full-time in the nonprofit field in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while earning her degree.
Here’s how she’s managed to hone her professional interests through her graduate studies with JWU Online and make strides toward her ultimate career goals.
Why did you decide to pursue your MS – Nonprofit Management?
While completing my undergraduate degree, I was able to intern at G Adventures, the world's leading small-group sustainable and adventure travel company. The company is able to make a positive impact on communities via their nonprofit Planeterra, which is the organization that initially inspired me to pursue the nonprofit sector.
I then went on to intern in Nepal for a remarkable nonprofit called the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation, where I assisted them with their sustainable tourism and marketing programs. At that point, I was already enrolled in the online MS – Nonprofit program for the next school year. However, towards the end of my stay in the Kathmandu Valley, the 7.8 earthquake struck the region. Surviving this event and witnessing firsthand the multilayered havoc that ensues post-disaster inspired me to focus my master’s on the disaster-relief sector of the industry, namely how to sustainably rebuild and rebrand a region that is reliant on tourism as their main economic driver. I'm particularly interested in local women's roles in this pursuit.
I feel that the education I have received from Johnson & Wales thus far has allowed me to not only explore my passions — thanks to our outstanding faculty and staff — but also do so in a way that is constructive, unique, and personalized. I can't imagine another program that would have allowed me to be as creative and ambitious in my pursuits as Johnson & Wales.
Johnson & Wales is known for their focus on experiential education. What have you learned in your coursework that you’ve been able to apply to your current career?
JWU's upside-down curriculum has and continues to be the university's biggest attribute, in my opinion. I aim to be specialized in my field, and both JWU programs have allowed me to professionally cater to that desire.
I am currently the development assistant for the Santa Fe Watershed Association, a role that I absolutely love as it allows me to project-manage various events, develop a millennial membership base, issue budgets, etc. Interestingly, many of the proposals that I present to my executive director have stemmed from the projects that I have completed for my coursework. For example, one of our assignments was to establish a legacy giving program where members could incorporate a nonprofit into their estate planning. I designed the program for SFWA and, after completion, submitted it to my executive director. The program got board approval and is just about ready to be launched and distributed to our members.
What advice would you give to someone who is either considering online learning or is in their first term at JWU Online?
Online learning is certainly an appealing option, especially for those of us with particularly busy schedules during normal business hours. While not having to physically report to classes may seem like an easier avenue, I find that online learning actually takes more personal discipline. You are absolutely responsible for your own success in the class, which is heavily dependent on reading the many pages of required text each week, as you do not have the opportunity to listen in on lectures or participate in in-person class discussions.
It's easy for the week to escape you, so I find it to be incredibly important to create a schedule that sets aside an ample amount of time for your weekly assignments. While there are, of course, benefits to being immersed in a traditional classroom environment, I am grateful to have the opportunity to pursue online learning, since I find that I am still able to get to know my professors and peers personally, as well as have complete control over my hectic schedule.
What do you do in your free time?
In addition to working at SFWA, I also guide hiking and cultural tours throughout the Northern New Mexico area. Between my jobs and school, I don't have much time for anything other than sleeping and Netflix-binging! However, the average 300 days of sun in Santa Fe makes you feel guilty for staying inside, so I try to lead an outdoorsy lifestyle out here by road-tripping, camping, and hiking.
For more information on pursuing the MS – Nonprofit Management or MBA – Nonprofit Management at Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education, complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881 or email [email protected].