Mountain Home, AR
M.Ed. in HRWD
“What the difference was – my only frame of experience was going for my bachelor’s and that was a lot of studying and reading and some discussion in class but this was a whole different ballgame. And I loved it. It was a whole lot of research and I loved doing that, as a writer, and it was a lot of writing, which I also love.”
Bob Korpella jokes about being older than not only his classmates but also his professors. But he's not joking about wanting to be treated the same as other students.
He found what he was looking for in a master's degree program in human resource and workforce development at the U of A, and he graduated last spring. One of his professors was within 10 years of his age.
"He was always making 1970s jokes, and I think I was the only one who got them," Korpella recalled with a smile.
Korpella, 67, of Mountain Home, has experienced success in his career — to date — in Missouri and Arkansas as a human resource professional, both in a full-time capacity with several companies and as a contractor and consultant. He also writes professionally, and his works include East of Peculiar, the first of a four-part fiction series; Dinosaur Dictionary for Kids; and articles for several print and online publications, including National Geographic Green Living.
"From my perspective, it often seems that someone substantially older than the rest of the group either gets boxed into a corner because the impression is their thinking may be outdated, or they are expected to be the voice of the entire group because they bring so much experience," Korpella explained. "It's two ends of a spectrum. But that's not at all what I experienced."
Several of his classmates told Korpella they liked to read his discussion board posts because he offered an interesting viewpoint, but they were never afraid to express their own thoughts and opinions.
"In addition, we all worked well together when placed into breakout rooms or when asked to work on a project as a team," he said. "I walked away feeling we all developed a mutual respect for one another. That might be a function of an online course of study as some students had just completed their bachelor's, a few had recently entered the workforce, and others were further along in their careers. It was a nice mix of views. The way I was treated was important to me because, like everyone else, I was there to learn, and I did."
The Razorbug Diploma Tour made a stop June 27 at the site of the home Korpella and his wife, Helyn, are building on a mountainside with a fabulous view of the northeast Arkansas hills. There, Mandel Samuels, a teaching assistant professor in the program, which recently changed its name to human resource development, presented Korpella's framed diploma to him. Samuels, a veteran of the tour, presented diplomas three times in two years.
U of A staff and faculty traveled about 1,850 miles during two weeks in June through northern and southern Arkansas celebrating graduates of online degree programs. The presentations featured as a backdrop the Razorbug, a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle converted to look like a Razorback, with tusks, snout, razor-edged spine, hooves and curly tail. Ed Pohl, the new dean of the Graduate School and International Education, sent congratulatory letters and GSIE swag.
State Rep. Jack Fortner of Yellville attended the presentation, as did a reporter from the local newspaper, the Baxter Bulletin, who wrote a front-page story about the tour's swing through the northeast part of the state. The Korpellas' daughters brought their families from Missouri to join in the fun.
Following the diploma presentation, everyone toured the framed structure in various stages of completion taking in the aroma of newly sawn lumber lingering on the warm air. Samuels spoke with Korpella about his experience studying online as a video camera captured the brief Q & A.
Korpella mentioned that 42 years had gone by since he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the U of A.
"When I'm 109, I'm going to go for my doctorate," he said, and Samuels immediately replied, "And, I'll come out here …" as those in the small crowd broke out into laughter.
Time to Study
Korpella generally doesn't hesitate so long to take on new challenges, and getting a master's degree was something he had always wanted to do but couldn't fit into his life because of family, work and other obligations or circumstances.
"For me, the degree was something I wanted to pursue from the beginning, but given my background, working so hard, going to school during the day, I didn't have energy to pursue it right after I got my bachelor's degree," he said. "Then, I got married and had a family, and I didn't want to spend time in school away from them. Then, my career was taking off, so I kept pushing it out and out."
The time eventually seemed right, and Korpella began to research online master's degrees. He was skeptical when he saw information saying Arkansas residents over 60 can get free tuition in degree programs at the U of A.
"I thought, 'this can't be true.' I had to look in several different places, and it was true," he said.
The policy states that senior citizens may register for classes on a space-available basis, but Korpella never encountered an issue with that. He enrolled in each class he needed when he needed it, despite not being able to register until the day before classes started.
"It doesn't matter what age you are, if it's a dream you want to pursue, go for it," he advised.
Korpella liked the difference between a bachelor's and a master's program as he experienced them: the bachelor's degree heavy on memorizing facts and taking tests, the master's degree filled with reading, research and writing. The latter allowed him to hone his writing skills in a different way than in the past, he said.
He believed, before he started the master's program, that he would feel isolated in online classes.
"I never felt that way," Korpella said. "We had voluntary Zoom meetings that resulted in a great sense of community. We never met in person, but I've got friends I never thought I would have."
Although his previous experience made Korpella pretty comfortable with technology, he suggested the tutorials and support offered by the U of A make those technological tasks easy to understand.
"Even if someone is not tech savvy, tools are available to get you to where you need to be," he said. "That shouldn't be a hurdle for anybody."
The content in the degree also gave Korpella a new lens — organization development — through which to view the function of human resources.
"I've done a lot of training and development, but this really was able to focus me so I'm planning to hang my shingle out again and say, 'Here I am,' and I'd be glad to help people with their training programs, strategic plans and those kinds of things," he said. "It allowed me to take what I know but give me a whole different focus."