Dan Green’s ’20 pursuit of a bachelor’s degree was bookended by two pivotal eras in world history, separated by a half-century: the Vietnam War and the COVID-19 pandemic. In between, Green switched gears from a career he thought he’d enjoy to one that he grew to love, raised a family and competed in cycling and speedskating. Despite the success he enjoyed in all of those parts of his life, his lack of a bachelor’s degree was one piece of unfinished business that gnawed at him.
“It always bothered me that I never completed my degree,” explains Green, “because it was one of the few things in my life that I had left unfinished.”
Green grew up in New York City, in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn. In high school, he developed an interest in architecture and went on to major in that subject at the Voorhees Technical Institute in Manhattan. After two years at Voorhees, Green transferred to City College.
“City College had a great architectural program, but it didn’t really work out for me. I decided to leave school and get a job in the architectural field,” explains Green. “I spent four years working at various architectural firms before ending up at a firm that was doing work for the government. I was project manager and I enjoyed that, but after we finished the project and the government didn’t have any more work for us, I got laid off.”
That experience drove Green to undertake a career change. He got a job with Prudential and spent the next 32 years working in financial services. While the fact that he hadn’t finished college nagged at Green, he soaked up every concept and skill he could find to help him excel at his job, and it didn’t take long for his passion and drive to carry him up the management ladder.
“I hadn’t finished my degree but I never stopped wanting to learn. Fortunately, in the financial services industry, there are a number of degrees that can be earned through the American College of Financial Services,” says Green. “The college is located near Philadelphia, but they offered courses online. So, I became very comfortable with taking remote classes.”
Green’s affinity for online learning would lead him back to chasing his one missing milestone.
“One day, my wife saw me taking industry courses on-line from the American College of Financial Services and asked, ‘Why are you doing that?’ I told her that it gave me the education I needed to help my brokers, and she said, ‘Why don’t you finish your college degree?,’” Green explains. “That had never occurred to me, so her comment kind of got the juices flowing.”
Green made some calls and found that, incredibly, the college credits he had earned in the late-1960s would still count towards a bachelor’s degree. By that time, he and his wife had relocated to Orlando from New York, so he transferred those credits to Valencia College, took a couple of classes there and then was able to participate in the Direct Connect to UCF program.
While Green isn’t your typical college student, he sees Direct Connect to UCF as a great program for students of any age and background.
“I think the program can help people avoid ending up in my situation, where my original stint in college ended without me earning my degree. Some students don’t know exactly what they want to do and for those people, jumping straight into a big college might not be the best thing for them,” explains Green. “Being a smaller institution, Valencia College is easier to maneuver. You can get acclimated to taking college classes, whether you’re doing it online or in person, and be better prepared when you do move on to a bigger school.”
Green did all of his classes online, mainly for the flexibility it afforded him.
“I’m working a bit, I’m retired, I spend time cycling and we travel a lot. So, the web-based courses allowed me to pursue my degree without disrupting other parts of my life,” Green says. “I even managed to be there when my son got married in California. I would head up to my hotel room to take my tests and finish my coursework, then go back down to rejoin the festivities.”
Convenience wasn’t the only reason Green opted to do his classes online, however.
“I didn’t take classes on campus because I felt a little embarrassed. I didn’t want to be this old guy sitting in a classroom surrounded by 19-year-olds,” he says. “I found out later that my situation is not that uncommon and that I might not have even been the oldest person in the class.”
While he regrets not taking at least a few courses on campus, Green was surprised by how much his online classes felt like the real thing.
“Some people might be leery of taking classes online, but I always felt like I was in a classroom environment,” he explains. “We had discussions amongst all the students and if I had a question I could reach out to my classmates and ask them, ‘How did you handle this? What did you do with this?’ So, I felt like, even though I wasn’t going to the campus, I didn’t feel alone, and I developed great camaraderie with my classmates. That was a benefit that I wasn’t expecting when I signed up to take my classes online.”
A UCF student counselor helped Green understand what courses he needed to take in order to earn his degree, and he set about choosing a major. Because the goal of Green’s studies was not to pave the way for a new career, he wanted to tailor his major to areas of study that matched his interests. He began by pursuing an Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) major, which allows students to build an individualized academic path from over 7,000 possible area of study and minor combinations. Green chose Health Sciences and Communications as his focus areas, and proceeded to complete the requirements of the Health Sciences track.
As he was beginning to turn his focus to Communications courses, however, Green learned about the impending launch of a new program, the Bachelor in Integrative General Studies (BGS). The BGS major offers a flexible and self-designed curriculum that allows students to draw on multidisciplinary course work to attain six learning outcomes, including an understanding of common human themes, awareness of diverse cultures, and the application of scientific methods, critical thinking and problem-solving skills in addressing some of the challenges facing society.
“My counselor, Peter Wallace, told me UCF was introducing a program that might suit me better than the Interdisciplinary Studies major. With the BGS major, I would only need two or three classes to graduate, whereas with IDS I would have had to take six more,” Green explains. “This was right up my alley, so when the BGS program got approved for UCF I transitioned into that major, took my last three classes and I was done. It worked out perfectly.”
Green sees the BGS and IDS programs as great stepping stones that help students fine-tune their path, whether it’s leading them to a career or to graduate school. He sees that as advantageous compared with one-size-fits-all majors, which he thinks may lead students to commit to a career prematurely.
“When you’re twenty years old, it may not be realistic to try to define where you’re going to be five, ten or fifteen years down the road,” says Green. “I went to college to be an architect, but somewhere along the line I realized, ‘I’m good, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be good enough to be a registered architect.’ It took me several years, but I found the career that I love and it had nothing to do with my major in college. You might figure out after your first couple of jobs that the career you chose in college is not right for you. Don’t be discouraged by that.”
Green says the advantage of the IDS and BGS programs is that they allow students to build a course of study around the things they’re passionate about. Even if that course of study doesn’t lead to a lifelong career, students will have been exposed to subjects and learned skills and concepts in those courses that will help them as they explore other options.
While he was relieved to have finally earned his bachelor’s degree, Green laments not having pursued it years ago while he was still working.
“The things I learned would have helped me immensely in my career, so I would encourage people who didn’t finish their college degrees to go back to school,” says Green. “I know that used to mean having to physically go to a classroom, but with web courses, as long as you have good time management skills, you can earn your degree without disrupting your career or other plans.”
Green thinks going back to school is a great thing to do even for those like him who are no longer in the workforce full-time.
“As an older person, it was a great way to keep busy and focus on subjects that I really enjoy,” adds Green.
Keeping busy is also one of the reasons Green joined the Advisory Board.
“I’m at a time in my life where I want to give back and I’m grateful to UCF,” says Green. “I’m old, but I’m not done yet. I still have a lot to do and I felt that being part of the Advisory Board would give me more of a purpose.”
Green graduated in summer 2020, ticking that box that had been left unchecked for over fifty years. While the ceremony was online, Green still got a taste of what it would have been like to participate in a live ceremony.
“I actually ordered a cap and gown, and when my children were in town, we went to the UCF campus and took a bunch of pictures,” Green explains. “We all got involved in the online graduation ceremony, and I kind of feel like I did it.”
Finishing his studies has left Green with more time to pursue not just his work on the advisory board, but other activities he loves, like cycling, a sport he started competing in when he was 13 years old. While he retired from competition at age 64, he never misses a day on his bike.
“You can always find me biking around the streets of Orlando,” Green says.