Matthew Schonert at the Spring 2016 Convocation with Prof. John Lambros
Matthew Schonert knew after earning his bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering at Illinois in 2013 that he wanted to pursue a graduate degree.
A year later, AE faculty members showcased the department’s new online MS degree program during an alumni luncheon at Boeing in St. Louis. Schonert, working as a structural analysis engineer for Boeing’s F-15 and F/A-18 Armament team, realized it was the right fit for him.
“I enjoy taking classes and learning new material, and Boeing encourages its employees to continue their education by reimbursing tuition and other expenses,” Schonert said. “I specifically chose the online master’s program at Illinois because I already have a relationship with the (AE) department through my undergraduate career, and because the flexibility of the online format allowed me to complete the program quickly with success while continuing to work full time.”
Graduating this past spring, Schonert found it easy to take online courses while continuing at Boeing.
“There was one week in which I was sent on business travel with very short notice. But I was able to keep up with lecture and homework in my hotel room throughout the travel since the program is administered online,” he said. “Another good aspect of the format is the ability to pause, rewind, and re-watch lectures. If there was ever a moment that I didn't quite catch what the professor was saying, or if I didn’t quite understand something during the lecture, I could always rewind and watch a specific segment again. Or if I wanted to make extra notes or look up a reference in the middle of lecture, I could pause and restart when I was ready to continue. This was a significant help with (my) comprehension and retention of the material.”
In addition to helping him stay competitive in the workforce, Schonert believes the master’s degree opened opportunities that he would not have had otherwise.
“I did not study aeroelasticity while an undergrad and had no direct exposure to the field through my work assignment. However, the two aeroelasticity courses I took through the master’s program were my favorites, and through one of my professors I was able to connect with someone at my workplace who works in the field.”
AE’s online master’s degree courses are the same courses that are taught on campus. Exams, also the same as those taken by on-campus students, can be proctored offsite. “I had the ability to take them proctored at work and wasn't required to return to campus, but I used that opportunity to visit people I knew who were still on campus and to talk to some faculty,” Schonert said. “It helped that Champaign is less than a 3-hour drive from St. Louis, and it was nice to supplement the purely online format with some face-to-face interaction. I also returned this past May for graduation ceremonies.”
Communicating with professors and other students through the online format wasn’t quite as easy as doing so in person, Schonert found. “Some classes were better about it than others though. The best courses handled the online format by facilitating communication through additional interfaces,” he said. “For example, AE 419 (Aircraft Flight Mechanics) relied on an online system called ‘Piazza,’ which was essentially a forum for asking questions to both the professor and the entire class. This promoted communication and collaboration between students, both online and on-campus.”
Schonert believes a virtual whiteboard tool capable of quick drawing, sketching and equation writing could be used to help solve the communication glitch.
“Overall I had a great experience with the program,” Schonert said. “The department launched it at just the right time for me – I was planning on taking a year off school anyway but didn’t want to wait too much longer, and I was wanting to complete an online program. I also enjoyed staying connected with Illinois and the AE department.”