July 10, 2017

An Individualized Experience: Returning to DSU

At 12 years old, Josh MacDonald made a promise to his uncle — one day, he would go to college and, no matter what, he would graduate. Years later, he was well on his way as a business administration student studying at Dixie State University. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, so business seemed to be the best path,” he shares. “But I also had family encouraging me to specialize in a certain skill, so that if something failed, I’d have something to fall back on.”

Heeding their advice, MacDonald also ventured into computer science classes, where Dean Eric Pedersen announced a need for an interested student to help run a software company with a local dentist. MacDonald jumped at the chance, which proved to be an invaluable experience, but the company’s success eventually compelled MacDonald to work full-time and subsequently put his education on hold.

Though he always intended to go back to school, the responsibilities that came with work and his growing family made it increasingly difficult. “The promise I’d made to graduate always lingered in my mind during that time, and the longer I was away, the more it felt impossible to keep,” MacDonald recalls.

Further complicating things, MacDonald had been pursuing a double major when he left and had enough total credits to graduate, but was only halfway done in both business administration and computer science. “It would have been tough to return to school full-time while supporting a family without compromising my work schedule,” MacDonald says.

Feeling he could no longer put his education off, however, he turned to a computer and information technology advisor, who referred him to DSU’s Individualized Studies Program — a unique learning experience that allows students to pursue a degree in a specific focus of study that is not otherwise available through the traditional, discipline-specific programs. “When I spoke with them, they said, ‘Your story is exactly why this program was created,’ ” MacDonald says. “So it just worked out perfectly.”

With guidance from advisors, Individualized Studies students are able to customize their degrees by incorporating coursework from more than one academic discipline to fit their interests and career goals. Students in the program must articulate their mission statement, goals, and objectives and conduct research to ensure their degree will be viable upon graduation. With help from advisors, they then plan their curriculum from the available courses to achieve their desired outcomes.

MacDonald enrolled and within a year he graduated from DSU with a bachelor’s degree he designed in Individualized Studies in E-Business. Now, he works full-time using the skills he gained from his classes running an online clothing company with his wife, Amy. “She runs the marketing side and I utilize what I learned from my classes every day in software and running the business side,” MacDonald says. “Working together, we’ve been able to make it really big and it’s a fun adventure.”

In just a few months they have grown to more than 26,000 Facebook followers, and have monthly revenue exceeding what they used to make annually. Matthew Morin, DSU’s director of Individualized Studies, says he expects degrees like MacDonald’s to gain more traction over time. “Although we originally thought it would appeal mostly to older returning adults, it’s really for all students who have enough experience and internal self-knowledge to realize their educational pathway is something they can sculpt to match whatever their post-graduation goals are,” he says.

MacDonald says he is glad to have fulfilled his promise and recommends the program to those considering returning. “I hate not finishing,” he says. “Coming back was definitely worth it, and it was a great feeling to finally walk across that stage and grab that degree.”

For more information about DSU’s Individualized Studies program, visit integratedstudies.dixie.edu/individualized-studies-program.


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