Photonics Professional Takes Career to the Next Level with Computer Science Degrees

After graduating from high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Scharon Garrett went on to New Mexico State University to study mechanical engineering. However, she soon realized that path wasn’t for her. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I left NMSU and returned home,” says Scharon. She enrolled in the Associate of Applied Science, electronic technology program at Central New Mexico Community College and fell in love with photonics—the science of the generation, transmission and sensing of light.

Enjoying an Engaging Career

Scharon started her career working on spectrometers, lasers used for eye surgery and other laser devices. She worked at an eastern San Francisco Bay startup, Blaze Network Products, and eventually, she landed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, working as a laser technologist. “At both of those jobs, the technology was cutting edge,” says Scharon, who says she’s always been interested in how things work. “I wanted to learn more and do more. I wanted to advance my career, so I knew I would go back to school.”

In 2001, Scharon started taking online classes through the California Community Colleges System, thinking she would eventually transfer to California State University, Chico, not far from her home. But a coworker introduced Scharon to American Sentinel University, where he was attending. “He was amazing and very smart,” she recalls. Influenced by her friend, Scharon checked out American Sentinel and decided to enroll in 2004.

Big Life Changes

In 2005, Scharon—who was now a first-time mother and still working full time—moved to Houston to be closer to her parents. Her father had fallen ill, and rather than search for another job, Scharon decided to focus on family and school. “For all of us, there are things in life that happen unexpectedly, and you have to take it day by day,” she says. “There were times that finishing school seemed like a long road ahead, but I made myself stick with it. Thankfully, I have a great husband and supporting cast.”

In 2007, Scharon graduated with her Bachelor of Science Computer Science. “I knew I wanted to continue on for a master’s degree,” says Scharon. She began the Master of Science Computer Science program—and decided to head back into the workforce as well. In spring 2007, she was hired by Honeywell as a service technician, visiting customers and troubleshooting server, hardware and system issues. “I’m taking what I learned at American Sentinel and applying it at work. I can see that my education has made a big difference in my day-to-day job.”

More Education in Her Future

Scharon graduated with her master’s degree in 2011. She hopes to move into a leadership position one day, but she also has her sights set on entrepreneurship—and more education. “I think an MBA or a Ph.D. in computer science is in my future,” she says, adding that there’s no doubt she’ll choose an online university. “My husband jokes that I’m going to keep going to school until I’m 80 years old. All I know is that I’m not done learning.”

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