ONTARIO — With a full-time job as an onion trial specialist for Nunhems in Parma, Ashley Southerland, Middleton, already has an established career in the agriculture industry, and balancing her pursuit of a master’s degree with her work and family life is sometimes tricky.
Yet, once a week, Southerland heads to Ontario to do just that. Southerland is one of a small group of students enrolled in Eastern Oregon University’s Master of Business Administration program by taking teleconference classes at the EOU-Ontario campus at Four Rivers Cultural Center Wednesday night.
Southerland, 28, already has a degree from Cal-Poly San Luis Opisbo in California in crop science for general crop production but has wanted to get her master’s degree for a long time. She said she could not decide, however, whether she wanted to get a master’s degree in or outside the agricultural field.
She ultimately decided on business, however, because she thinks an MBA will give her more flexibility for movement within a large company.
“It always gives you a leg up,” she said. “It’s not to say you can’t be successful outside of a big company or without your MBA because, obviously, you can.
“I thought a degree in business administration paired well with a degree in agriculture,” she said. “It’s a good combination in today’s world.”
Southerland said that, while she really enjoys her career now, at some point, she might want to go into sales or product management, and a foundation in business finance and management will help her.
EOU’s MBA program also gives her the flexibility she needs to pursue her education while keeping her day job, Southerland said.
Southerland began EOU’s Ontario program when it first started in September, and she said the program has worked out really well for her.
“It’s affordable, and the faculty is great,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed all my classes.”
Still, working in Parma all day and then heading to Ontario every Wednesday night to take a class from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. every Wednesday can be draining, Southerland said.
“Thursday mornings come fast, but it’s definitely worth it,” she said, adding the flexibility of EOU’s teleconferencing program is what working adults need these days if they are going to advance their educations.
While her classmate Donna Clark, Emmett, is on the nine-term track, Southerland is aiming to complete her MBA in five, 11-week terms.
“I just felt like once I started it, I just wanted to commit to it and get it finished,” she said.
Clark’s reasons for completing the program, and her thesis, in nine terms were practical — the immediate costs were less — she takes one class every term as opposed to two, like Southerland. Clark, who is an embryologist at Simplot and already has a master’s degree from Penn State in animal science, said the company helps out with tuition costs but only to a certain extent.
“I did two classes the first semester, but it was a little more hectic, and I have a little more time to get things done this way,” Clark said.
Like Southerland, Clark, too, thinks an MBA will give her more flexibility within her job in the long run. Although she considered getting an MBA from a couple of other universities, Clark said it is more convenient for her to come to Ontario than to drive the opposite direction after work in traffic to take a classes and also concluded EOU best suited her needs and schedule.
“I think Nampa’s is totally online, but I like the idea of some interaction with my instructors,” she said.
Both she and Southerland said they participate in the classes just as much as the students in the live classroom in La Grande.
“It’s like you’re in class,” Southerland said. “It’s totally interactive.”