Erjola Buzi ’14 came to the United States from her native Albania in 2007 with a B.S. in electronic engineering, no job, little English, many fears and even more dreams.
Seven years later she has a professional master’s degree in electrical engineering from Rice, a job with Schlumberger and a husband.
“I consider myself very fortunate. I am working as a design engineer with a good company. Rice is like America to me—it helped me make my dreams come true,” said Buzi, who is 32 and has worked for Schlumberger since 2008.
For 40 years, Rice has offered professional master’s degrees, often tailored for students like Buzi, who already have experience in the working world and wish to further their education and improve their marketability. The nine departments in the George R. Brown School of Engineering offer 14 professional master’s degrees.
An early beneficiary of the professional master’s program at Rice was Bart Sinclair, associate dean of engineering for academic issues and budgets, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering in 1973 and 1974, respectively, and his Ph.D. in 1978.
“The program is proving very successful and increasingly popular,” Sinclair said. “In 2005-2006, across the entire school, we were down to 29 professional master’s degrees. Now we are up to 180. That’s a six-fold increase in a short time.” Asked to explain the program’s sudden growth, he said, “We are more aggressively marketing the program and its popularity begins to spread by word of mouth. We’re making it attractive to working people.”
Working people like Erjola Buzi. “My big dream was to get into the best school. I was already living and working in Houston,” she said, “so that meant Rice.” While working at Schlumberger, which agreed to pay her tuition, Buzi started at Rice in January 2010.
“It was quite a challenge at first. The first semester I started with one class. The second semester I went to three, but I ended up auditing the business class I was taking,” Buzi said. “It was a struggle, very long days, but I did it. The school really tried to make it friendly for people with jobs.”
Brian Vanover would agree. At age 27, he has already spent a lot of time in school and on the job. In 2010, he graduated with a B.S. in mathematics and another in economics from Arizona State University. He had thought about going to business school but as an undergraduate he got interested in probability theory and decided to give statistics a try.
“Statistics is interesting because it actually answers questions. I like working with massive amounts of data and looking for answers to questions,” he said, explaining his decision to pursue a professional master’s degree at Rice.
Vanover was enrolled at Rice, beginning in August 2010, when he attended a job fair on campus and was hired the following June as an R&D mathematician at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. He earned his master’s degree in December 2012. “My job is an interesting combination of IT and research analysis. I got a pretty rigorous education at Rice, and that helps a lot,” said Vanover, who since August 2013 has been pursuing a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Southern California.