The next level

Jason Briggs was tired of being trapped in his job. After seven years as a senior manager at Agilysys Inc., Briggs was bumping his head on his professional ceiling. He knew he needed to further his education to get the promotion he wanted.

“I just couldn’t get over the hump,” says Briggs.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus, Briggs went looking for better opportunities. He had only been at his new job a few months when Agilysys asked him to return as the company’s director of facilities and real estate — at a 57 percent net salary increase.

Smart Business spoke with Briggs about furthering your education and how it can give you advantages in the workplace.

How did your professional experience help you in your continuing education endeavors?

I had an associate’s degree and nearly 15 years experience in my position, so I knew a lot of the material they were throwing at us in advance. But what’s nice is that the classes really put a finishing edge on my education in areas like statistics and human resource law — things not in my core skill set. It helped me become a more well-rounded, universal strategic player.

The faculty was outstanding, because most of the faculty members are actually practitioners. They all have master’s degrees and, in the academia world, it’s pretty much a prerequisite to have a master’s or Ph.D. So, when you’re going for your bachelor’s degree, you can trust that you’ll learn what you need to know to survive in business.

The other major bonus is the fact that, like everyone in the classes, the professors are working for a living. It’s not like a brick-and-mortar institution where most of the educators are professional professors. These people are practitioners and most of them teach the curriculum part-time, while working in the work force full-time. That adds to their credibility.

That, along with the learning teams and the flexible schedules, is what I found to be most beneficial.

What are these learning teams?

A lot of people, including myself, had no idea what these were. When they found out, many people were disenfranchised by the idea. Why would I want to join a learning team and have 30 to 40 percent of my final grade based on my participation and have some people with no academic skills pull my team down? That’s the No. 1 complaint and frequently asked question.

But after you get over that initial reluctance and experience being part of the team, you begin to understand how it can benefit you as a student. The learning teams present a great opportunity for those who have never been in a collaborative environment to participate in groups to understand where they fit into the pecking order. If three people got into a work group right now, they would understand pretty quickly who the leaders are, who the creative thinkers are, who is good at speaking and who the dominating personalities are. Then, you can learn where you fit in and how your skills can enhance the areas where others’ drop off.

How is the team set up?

There was usually a group of four to six people. You stay with your team for at least the entire class and, while some teams remain together during their entire curriculum, University of Phoenix advisors actually encourage changing team assignments from class to class. The theme of the learning team is to always have new people, so you can experience all the different personalities — just like you would in the workplace.

How did the university’s learning teams enrich your experience?

As a department head, I managed a lot of people and I dealt with a lot of peers. So what was good for me was if I didn’t like the way I was in the group, I could look at myself from a 100,000-foot level and have a chance to tweak my behavior. For instance, when I’m at the learning group, I’m a leader, but I may be too dominant of a leader. If that’s the case, I should back off and ask more questions or do different things. I can take this new outlook to the workplace.

Other people have never led. They may not be natural leaders, but this gives them a snapshot and platform to experiment and say, ‘I need to step it up because I am not aggressive enough. I don’t deal with conflict well.’

Let’s say I was great at three things, and somebody else is great at a fourth thing, but he or she was sick that day. Well then I have to step up to the plate and do something I really wasn’t that great at. Some people love writing papers, and you can give that work to those people. But all of a sudden, that person isn’t there anymore. Now you have to make sure you don’t blow the assignment, because if you do, you let the whole team down. If I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, even if I’m covering for someone, everybody gets the same grade I get. That’s 40 percent of what you’re doing.

Jason Briggs is the director of facilities and real estate at Agilysys Inc. University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America, serves a diverse student population, offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S., as well as online throughout the world. University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus serves students online and at locations in Independence, Beachwood and Westlake/Crocker Park. To learn more, contact University of Phoenix at (216) 447-8807 or (800) MY SUCCESS or