We recently had the pleasure of interviewing UMBC graduate student, Michael Schlitzer, about his experience studying Data Science at UMBC-Shady Grove. Here’s what he had to say!

Originally posted by Sam Angell, Senior Marketing Coordinator, UMBC at The Universities at Shady Grove, in the UMBC-Shady Grove Newsletter, The Oculus, Volume 1, Issue 3.

UMBC-Shady Grove: What brought UMBC-Shady Grove to your attention and what attracted you to the school?

Michael Schlitzer: I’m a UMBC alumnus from Catonsville and I was looking for a graduate program in data science. Literally as I was driving home after work, I heard a radio ad on NPR for UMBC at the Universities at Shady Grove with a master’s degree in data science. I thought “Hey, that’s what I want to do! I love UMBC! …What the heck is Shady Grove?” When I did some digging around, I realized that it was not that far from me. I love UMBC, but Catonsville is just too far to go to after work for a class. I’m in Leesburg, VA. Shady Grove, though, is not too far. Most of my professors actually work in Northern Virginia. I think that people in the DC metro area should know more about Shady Grove as an option. It’s fantastic in terms of quality of education and proximity in the area. I tell everyone about Universities at Shady Grove.

UMBC-SG: Was it helpful to already have UMBC experience in your background?

MS: Definitely. One of the things that make graduate degrees in particular challenging for some people is the fear of the unknown in terms of stepping into an entirely new institution. I loved my undergraduate experience. I can have all those same feelings but not have to travel or move back home and live in mom and dad’s basement. That opened things up for me.

UMBC-SG: What did you study in undergrad and where did it lead you professionally?

MS: I was at UMBC many years ago. I was a political science major and I went to college back when the Soviet Union still existed. I went from UMBC to the Rand/UCLA Center for Soviet Studies, and while I was there, the Soviet Union collapsed. I was in California, my family is from Maryland. My girlfriend – now my wife of 27 years – was back in Maryland. So I decided I didn’t want to be in California anymore. Four kids and 27 years of marriage later, it turns out to have been a good decision.

I’ve spent my career in a completely different field though: audio visual design and videoconferencing networking. I’ve worked in sales and network operations and, in both roles, I’ve never suffered for lack of things to learn or challenges to overcome. My work has been interesting, and this chapter in my life at UMBC-Shady Grove is a way for me to grow in new directions.

UMBC-SG: Why go back to school now?

MS: I’ve always been interested in learning new things. I’m not a computer programmer, per se. My work schedule allowed for some time to learn a few new things, so I found Coursera and I started to take some classes on coding. I started out there and that led to the PHP language and then it led to Python courses. I really enjoyed those classes and I got into a data science specialization. There’s no interaction with anyone on this, though, and I went through three of the four classes in this specialization and decided that I really liked it and wanted to study it in more detail.

UMBC-SG: What it is like being an adult learner with so much professional experience prior to coming to UMBC-Shady Grove?

MS: First of all, most of the professors are younger than me, which is an odd experience. But so much of what I’ve done over the course of my career has direct applicability. When I came back to class and learned things that I maybe hadn’t learned formally, my notes were replete with real-life experiences that I’d had and I was able to connect to what we were learning. My learning experience was supplemented by that real-world experience and vice versa in a real positive reinforcement loop that I really hadn’t anticipated.

UMBC-SG: Have you been able to impact your classmates thanks to your experience?

MS: I really enjoyed being in-person in class because you get grouped up with people and you could help them or they could help you from your experiences. I was able to share my information from work and Coursera with my classmates, and they had ways of looking at things that I hadn’t considered before. I am a detailed note-taker. It’s something I learned as an undergraduate. It goes into my brain in a different way and it never leaves. So I have been able to help people and I’ve been helped by people who have had different experiences.

UMBC-SG: How much of a challenge has Covid been for your academic experience?

MS: Covid has been challenging. Seeing people in person is a big deal. I thoroughly enjoy the classes that have cameras on. I worked in a class over the summer, and as we worked in teams, I worked with a woman in Brunswick, MD, and we worked on camera. We worked well together, so when she showed up in another of my classes, she’s not just a name. She’s a person that I know and I was able to make that connection right away. It’s been really different. One of the reasons I wanted to come to UMBC, aside from my affection for the University, was that I wanted to have that in-person experience rather than a totally asynchronous one. So one would think that Covid had it all screwed up. But I personally find this way of interaction where we’re live and you can ask questions to be an acceptable substitute. Is it ideal? No. Is it what we have right now? Yes, and most of my professors have made the best of the situation. There’s nothing you can do.

All of my classes have had a good level of interaction. I would like to see people on camera more, but I know that’s my preference and not everybody’s preference. But my strong advice is when you’re in a small group, put your cameras on. Nobody cares about what’s happening in your background. As human beings, we connect face-to-face. When you just hear a voice, you really don’t know people.

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