WSU-Rochester grad on going back to school as an adult: 'It was all worth it'
With late nights, early mornings and a family to care for, Aaron Evans is the first to admit that going back to school as an adult is no easy task.
“For about five years, it was pedal to the metal — working, going to school, raising kids,” says Aaron, a 2014 graduate from Winona State University-Rochester’s Computer Science program.
It was in 2009, a full decade after his first attempt at college, that Aaron came to the conclusion that he was not living up to his potential. So with a full-time job, a young child, and another soon on the way, Aaron made the decision to take another shot and enroll in classes.
“After high school, I tried to go to college but my maturity wasn’t quite there yet,” says Aaron. “I was busy making some not-so-good decisions (laughter), and so my life took a bit of a detour. Then after my life choices and consequences all caught up with me, and I paid the price, I decided I needed to change and turn my life around.”
Now a software engineer at IBM in Rochester, Aaron has done exactly that. In addition to advancing his career, he has also become more active in the community, regularly volunteering on mentorship programs in robotics and engineering.
And most importantly, through hard work and determination, he has set an example for the two most important people in his life: his 5-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.
“My son tells me all the time that he wants to grow up and be like me,” says Aaron. “And I say, ‘as long you skip all the mistakes I made in between, then that’s great if you end up in the same position as me.’ But I think I’ve been a good influence on [my kids], to show how somebody can change their whole life around.”
We recently caught up with Aaron on IBM’s “Big Blue” campus for a tour and interview. Minor edits to our conversation were made for flow and clarity.
What was it like managing a family, job and school all at once?
It was very tiring. I always had something going on. I definitely was never bored. If it wasn’t work, then it was homework. So usually I would wait for the kids to go to bed, about 10 o’clock, and then I’d expect to be staying up for another three hours or so doing homework … So it was definitely difficult getting an education as an adult, but once I graduated it was all worth it.
On those difficult days, what kept you motivated?
Just a better life for me and my kids. I always wanted a job that would be able to use my brain in, not just a physical labor job, for the rest of my life. I knew I had more potential than the jobs I was getting. Also, I wanted to be a good example for my kids, too.
Were there any faculty members that really stood out during your time in school?
Nicole Anderson and Chi-Cheng Lin (both computer science professors at WSU-R) were both influential for me. There were a couple of times during my years of schooling that I kind of got down. It’s kind of life a roller coaster; I had ups and downs, and they served as good motivators and influenced me to keep pushing and go ahead and get that degree.
Tell us a little about the work you do now.
At IBM, I am part of “System z.” The “z” can be referred to sometimes as, “zero down time.” The mainframe system is always up, always running. I work on an appliance called “TKE.” That’s “Trusted Key Entry.” We provide key management mechanisms for secure transactions that are used by banks, the healthcare industry, passport officials, government agencies — they’re all using this product. You can use it to encrypt and protect your secret keys to keep out patients’ information, credit card information; all of it is kept safe … So it’s been real fun working as part of the team.
How has your life changed since getting the job at IBM?
When I was going to school, I was super busy with working, and kids, and homework. So when I graduated and got this job, it’s like I go to work and then I have all this free time; where it used to be, as soon as I get done with work then I have a whole bunch of school work to do. Now I can spend time with the kids. We go to the park. I cook. And so I also started getting involved with a lot of volunteer activities with my free time.
You mentioned your involvement in community activities. Tell us about the Lego robotics program you volunteer for.
What we do is during the fall season, from September through December, we go to area schools once or twice a week, and we give lessons to students and teach them how to program Lego robots. So it’s a lesson in engineering and programming, because they get to build the robots to complete a specific task. And then we show them how to program the robots … and then it all wraps up with a competition at RCTC, where we have all the area kids get together. I think last year about 400 kids participated … and these could be our next engineers and could help drive innovation and creativity in America. Those are our future scientists and engineers.
This article is part of a collection of interviews being published in partnership with Winona State University-Rochester.
Cover photo by Med City Beat