Earning a master’s degree is a challenging task whether a student is on campus or taking courses from thousands of miles away. Eric Parkila found success at Kansas State University all the way from Las Vegas, with a little help from some exceptional university employees.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2007, Parkila and his fiancee — now wife — moved to Las Vegas, where he accepted a job from JT3 LLC, a defense contractor and Raytheon Co. subsidiary. When his employer offered to provide his tuition for a master’s degree in electrical engineering, he looked around online and discovered a Kansas State University distance program that allowed him to focus on communications systems.
“I checked out several schools, including Stanford and UCLA,” Parkila said. “K-State’s website was the easiest to navigate, and all my questions were answered quickly and completely.”
Parkila called the university and reached the desk of Ellen Stauffer, engineering program coordinator for the Division of Continuing Education. Instead of referring him to the website or transferring his call to another office, Stauffer took the time to answer all of his questions personally.
“Her friendliness was amazing, and her help throughout the process was greatly appreciated,” Parkila said. “That type of attitude is what impresses me most about K-State.”
This impression was further cemented once Parkila enrolled in distance education courses, several of which were taught by Bala Natarajan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Parkila said Natarajan, also his academic adviser, was the ideal professor for a distance student.
“I have sent him emails on a Saturday evening and received a response on Sunday morning,” he said. “Being away from campus means that sometimes the hours we need to put in may not coincide with office hours. Dr. Natarajan understands that and makes time for his students.”
This convenience was important to Parkila, who continued to work as many as 50 hours a week while taking one class a semester year-round.
“Getting my master’s degree is important because it will provide opportunities for me to move up in my job as well as open up other opportunities,” he said. “I like that the online courses through K-State still follow campus deadlines, giving me the opportunity to work at my own pace while still holding me accountable.”
Since enrolling at Kansas State University, Parkila has become a fan of Wildcat athletics and occasionally gets together with university alumni in his area to watch football and basketball games. Now he will join the community of alumni as he earns his master’s degree in electrical engineering this spring. Parkila hopes to continue his education by obtaining a doctorate degree in the future.