The idea of earning a master's degree didn't make much sense to Peter Epstein not long ago.
"I considered a master's degree, but it was never really something that I was going to follow through with because it wasn't part of my plan," Epstein said.
However, a conversation Epstein had with colleague John Dickerson while working in sales for AT&T sparked his curiosity.
"John was in the program at Boise State, so he mentioned that AT&T had a pretty competitive tuition reimbursement program," he said. "I've always valued education. Getting an additional degree was always something that was in the back of my mind, but I had just never followed through with it.
"I applied and got in, so I said, 'I'm going to this.' Now, it's definitely part of the strategy. This seemed like an opportunity that was too good."
Epstein became a father in 2016 after moving to Denver with his wife, Mo. An epiphany led Epstein to a career change, which made the MBA all the more desirable and valuable. He is now an account manager for Booking.com and hopes to transition into data science and learn coding.
"I was driving to work one day and had my whole career mapped out," he said. "I said, 'Wow, I really don't want to do this.' It wasn't dreadful, but I had a moment of clarity after my son, Leo, was born. My hours were long and really unpredictable. I really wanted something that was a bit more stable, where I could just go into an office and make my own schedule."
Although Epstein travels more for work now, he has steady work hours and is always home with his family at night.
"I had a child on the way and I was working full time, so going back to school outside of an online program was out of the question," he said. "There was no way I was ever going to have time for that. The Boise State Online MBA was perfect."
Epstein quickly learned one essential skill to balance school with work and time at home with his family.
"It was like having another full-time job, but it taught me a lot about time management, which is something I didn't necessarily practice when I was an undergrad," he said. "When you have a full-time job, a new kid and you're doing an online program, you really have to plan things out. The development of the time management skills is pretty good. As long as you're able to do that, then it should be not easy but easier."
Epstein grew up in Massachusetts, but moved to Montana when he was 19 to pursue higher education. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in marketing from the University of Montana in 2011.
He worked a diverse group of jobs throughout his undergraduate program, with roles including food service and catering manager at the University of Montana, assistant to the director of marketing and membership services at the YMCA, and business manager at Good Nutrition Ideas. Epstein relocated to Phoenix and then Denver during his four-plus years at AT&T.
"It was a big transition to go from Montana to Phoenix," he said. "I had a certain plan, but my wife moved down there and hated it. I figured out a path to get to Denver. You can't get much different from Montana than Phoenix. I would argue that Hawaii is more like Montana than Phoenix."
Since starting at Booking.com in late 2016, Epstein has enjoyed broadening his horizons and taking on challenges in a new career field.
"I had never worked in hospitality before now," he said. "I didn't know anything about online travel agencies, but I had a ton of sales experience, which was exactly what they were looking for at that time with the direction that the company was going.
"There was a lot of onboarding and sales-related stuff that they needed to get done. It was just timing. I interviewed well and got in through a friend who works in Seattle who put me in the employee referral program."
Room to Grow
Epstein thoroughly enjoyed the capstone course, BUSMBA 555: Business Plan Development, that wrapped up the online MBA program because of the autonomy it gives students to pick their own business and industry to research.
"I chose Booking Holdings, which is the umbrella group for Booking.com, so I was able to really dive deep into a lot of research," he said. "It gave me an excuse to get in touch with and network with a lot of people in the company who are higher ranking. In a nutshell, the real-life application for the capstone projects ... you get what you put into it."
Although Epstein felt that BUSMBA 515: Corporate Finance was the most difficult course in the curriculum, he appreciated the sense of accomplishment he gained from completing it.
"When you actually get through it -- and I got a pretty good grade in it, too -- it's very satisfying to say, 'I just put a ton of work into this, and I am really getting the benefits from it,'" he said. "It maybe wasn't my favorite class, but it was the best feeling when I was done, like, 'Yeah, I just crushed it.'"
Even while working as an account manager, Epstein acquired plenty of applicable knowledge in the MBA coursework.
"Some classes, I thought, 'Wow, this is extremely relevant to what I am doing right now,'" he said. "Especially with the capstone, deep diving and doing serious research into the past and future of the company that I am working at. That's great."
When Epstein told his friends and family about returning to higher education, they were very excited.
"There was definitely support," he said. "My dad very much values education. He was thrilled. Unfortunately, he passed away in early December 2017. It would have been nice for him to see me finish, but I know he was really happy that I was going back to school."
Epstein believes the online MBA program is a great way to earn a degree and that the biggest key to success is planning.
"Work really hard the first week to strategize for the coming weeks," he said. "Everything is pretty uniform. It's the same type of assignment every week, so figure out in the first week how long it takes for the assignments and work Monday through Friday so you have weekends off."
With a bright future ahead of him, Epstein looks forward to enjoying weekends with his family and seeing where the MBA takes him.
"When you add a degree to whatever CV you have, the worst it could do is keep you neutral," he said. "With any sort of degree -- or anything in life -- it's what you make of it. If you get an MBA, sit on it and not try to leverage your education, then you're not going to get anything. My MBA is definitely going to be a very useful tool moving forward."
Learn more about the Boise State University online MBA program.
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