When Bobby Yanez took the first step towards securing a better future for himself by earning an associate's degree at a local community college in Texas, he fulfilled the dream his immigrant parents had for him — and set a powerful example for his siblings. The next step in his educational journey led him to UMass Lowell, where he gained a new level of self-confidence that has enabled him to see himself in any role or position that he may choose to pursue in the future.
Can you talk a little bit about the experience of being the first one in your family to go to, and graduate from, college?
This question is a little emotional for me. I grew up in a very humble (semi-poor) household. Both of my parents emigrated from Mexico at a young age. My father was able to complete high school, and my mother attended school through third grade. When I was growing up, my mother worked for a meat-packing wholesaler and my father delivered bread to grocery and convenience stores. My parents always wanted me to succeed but I also think they didn't want me to have to work as hard as they did — my mom was peeling shrimp at age 10 to help my grandmother pay bills.
During my senior year of high school, my father shared with me that he wanted me to go to college but with the understanding that he and my mom couldn't help me pay for tuition or books because we simply didn't have the money. So I earned my associate's degree at the local community college (Texas Technical College in Harlingen, TX), and then went out into the IT field. But I really felt like I needed to expand my learning more so I went ahead and enrolled in the bachelor's in IT program at UMass Lowell.
What have you been doing since graduating in 2019?
I have been working for the University of Texas (UT) since December of 2007, and during that time I was passed up for two promotions because I didn't have a bachelor's degree. I got promoted after graduating from UMass Lowell in 2019, and I currently work in UT's system administration office as a Senior Information Security Analyst. I run the risk and compliance program for our institution. I am also pursuing a Master of Jurisprudence in Cybersecurity and Management at Texas A&M University Law School.
What was your experience like as a transfer student?
It was super easy to transfer my credits to my degree plan. Some classes didn't give me enough hours when they transferred but for the most part, I was pleased. I was also able to translate my military experience to credits as well — I am an active joining member of the Texas Army National Guard with the 36th Infantry. As a grunt, I didn't get much credit but I was surprised that UMass Lowell's Office of Veterans Services took my joint service transcript and gave me credit for some courses.
Why did you choose UMass Lowell?
I was looking for a bachelor of science degree in information technology but I found that there were very few colleges/universities offering a B.S. in IT online. It was important for me that it be a bachelor of science degree because math and science are foundational in the information technology field. I also loved that the cost for tuition at UMass Lowell was comparable to in-state tuition rates in Texas.
It also helped that the University of Massachusetts is not in Texas! I wanted to stand out and make myself a bit more marketable by attending an out-of-state school. I couldn't leave Texas because of my family and job, so this was a great way to accomplish that goal.
What was your online learning experience like?
It taught me to be organized. Taking classes while raising a family (I have a wife and three children), working full-time and serving in the National Guard could have turned into a big mess if I didn't manage my time and effort. I was able to do so because UMass Lowell's online learning portal (Blackboard) helped me to easily understand my schedule and stay on top of things like when my assignments were due and other important dates.
I also have to say that the professors made it easy to communicate with them and worked with me on several events that came up. At times, even with the flexibility that was given, it was hard to maintain that balance. Due to a relief mission for Hurricane Harvey, I had to drop out for a couple of semesters. But I just kept chipping away at it all. It may have taken me longer to graduate but I have no regrets.
Can you talk a bit about specific knowledge you gained that you have used on the job?
I really enjoyed my Project Management class. When working on projects in IT, project management skills are essential. After taking that class, I felt more adequate leading projects and being an active contributor to any project because I understood the concept better.
How has your experience at UMass Lowell impacted you and your family?
Doing this ... it showed me and my siblings that it can be done. My brother now has two associate's degrees, and my sister has a bachelor's and a master's degree. In addition, it gave my kids a vision of what it looks like to pursue higher education and graduate from college.
Did you find the faculty, staff, and resources to be helpful to you as an online student?
My advisor, Rebecca Stoodley, was amazing. You know that saying, it's not how you start but how you finish? Well, when I was a couple of semesters out from graduating, I began to see some holes in my credits that I transferred in and how that was affecting my degree plan. Rebecca helped me through that process. She was so reassuring and easy to talk to that I began to ask her other, more personal questions. She helped me make plans for me and my entire family to come to the commencement ceremony — she even helped me figure out where to stay in Boston and in Lowell. When I attended graduation, I made sure I found her to personally thank her for going over and beyond for me and my family. Coming to graduation in Lowell was the first time anyone in my family ever made a trip outside of Texas.
Would you recommend UMass Lowell to others who are interested in pursuing an online degree?
Yes, I would recommend it to anybody. UMass Lowell is the total package for an online education with a true college feel. From taking classes that challenge you and make you expand your knowledge, to coming to a beautiful campus and partaking in a traditional commencement ceremony, it is an experience that I will never forget.