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By Elizabeth Exline
Sometimes your past lays the necessary groundwork for your future. Sometimes, you have to take matters into your own hands.
Jacob Bruce falls into the latter category. Born and raised in Upper Michigan, Bruce comes from a family in which hard work is valued. But education? Not so much.
On that topic at least, Bruce is the outlier. For him, education has been his chosen path for discovering both the life and the career he’s always wanted.
Like many University of Phoenix (UOPX) alumni, Bruce had a few false starts before landing in the right program. He didn’t have the guidance or motivation to start college after high school, he says. But when a previous employer nudged him toward community college, Bruce enrolled in a computer-aided design course and found that not only could he complete the work, he actually liked it.
Life is about more than work and school, however. For Bruce, a big source of joy and motivation is the family he’s built. He and his wife met through a religious dating app, and from the outset, everything just clicked. Their birthdays are one day apart. Their daughter was born exactly three years after their first phone call. “With my wife, everything feels like a fairy tale,” Bruce says.
While his marriage can be described as storybook, the job he took upon moving to Wisconsin (to be closer to his now wife) was more of a bad dream. Bruce was working as a technical writer, and he hated it.
“The job that I was in was just a dead end,” Bruce says. “I could see it from the second day I was there.”
Adversity, however, makes us stronger. In Bruce’s case, that meant rethinking his future. He had heard good things about University of Phoenix and started looking into earning his associate degree.
“The first time I met Jacob, the focus centered around career progression while taking future steps toward advancement,” explains Jennean Peguese (Rieth), an academic counselor at UOPX. “Jacob was working a job that did not support his family or aspirations in information technology. Through assessment of his work experience and transfer credits from [a] community college, we could take steps toward earning additional credits in his first year with UOPX, opening the doors to earning an associate degree in information technology.”
In addition to earning his degree, Bruce went on to achieve an industry certification and successfully take an EC-Council exam to further distinguish himself in the sector.
By this time, he and his wife were married, and they had a daughter. Bruce was still working in the job he hated, and his life had taken on a monotonous routine of work, weekend, repeat. “I was like, ‘I need something better than this,’” Bruce recalls.
Already in the groove of school, Bruce decided to fully commit again. In January 2020, he started his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology program. But while he had both experience and a related associate degree, the path wasn’t easy. He was juggling a lot, and managing his time effectively meant most hours were spent working in one capacity or another.
“The potential I saw in Jacob formed in our very first conversation,” Peguese says. “He had many of the puzzle pieces in place … [like] tenacity, dedication, drive and focus.”
Luckily for Bruce, he also had support. “About a year after I started [my bachelor’s degree], we found out my wife [was] pregnant with our second child,” Bruce says. “I was doing homework the night before our son was born in the hospital.”
Their son wasn’t their only new arrival, either. Bruce was preparing to pursue a new professional role, which he earned through both hard work and serendipity. Bruce had reached out to UOPX’s Career Services to help update his resumé and then applied for an internship that looked promising. The company’s HR department reached out and recommended he apply for the role of IT compliance analyst instead.
He did, and he was offered the position. The good news? He loves it. The less good news? It’s been a steep learning curve. And he was trying to ramp up in that role while keeping up with school and being present for his growing family all at the same time.
Cybersecurity, he explains, is really about making sure people aren’t making mistakes, and his role has “layers of complexity” in that it combines cybersecurity with auditing. “It’s not a straight line of work,” he says. “It’s multifaceted.”
It’s been a lot. As with any good fairy tale, there’s been a sprinkling of magic mixed in too. Bruce’s mother-in-law stayed with them for months after their son was born so that Bruce and his wife could get their sea legs as parents of two kids. Bruce’s father-in-law (who was working on his third master’s degree himself) checked in regularly. And Peguese made herself available to support him academically.
“I’m here to tell you the support is just incredible [at UOPX],” Bruce says.
“The support I provided was listening,” Peguese demurs. “An open ear can bring clarity to action steps. … My role was to support Jacob in the space he was in and encourage academic support. We ended up making a wonderful friendship [in the process].”
In March 2022, two and a half years after starting his bachelor’s program, Bruce completed his degree. He is the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
The commencement ceremony in Phoenix marked this milestone in a momentous way: His degree was conferred, and he finally met Peguese face-to-face.
It was an experience Bruce has a hard time describing even today. Part of that may be because Peguese’s support and friendship surprised even him.
A few days after he returned to Wisconsin, a box arrived on his doorstep. It contained a giant frame for his diploma, and it was from Peguese.
“That’s one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me,” Bruce says.
For Peguese, her friendship with Bruce is equally profound. “I am beyond proud of Jacob,” she says. “He is an amazing example of a success story!”
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