Discover how Luis Plata was able to gain a master’s and certificate while working full time

Luis Plata was a senior mechanical engineer before joining CU Boulder’s MS-EE on Coursera Program. In January 2021, Luis obtained the Internet of Things Certificate on Coursera, and in December 2021, Luis graduated from the MS-EE program and was able to attend CU Boulder’s May 2022 graduation ceremony. Read more to learn about his experience with the MS-EE program!

When did you enroll in the MS-EE on Coursera Program?

I enrolled in the summer of 2020, in the middle of the second summer semester.

Were you in the non-credit version prior to enrolling in the for-credit version?

I attempted the free course for the sensor course, and I was hooked and wanted to pursue this further.

What was your educational and work experience background before you enrolled in this program?

I was in a multidisciplinary role, I did quite a bit of mechanical engineering, software engineering, but a big focus of my role was in electrical engineering and so it felt very natural to continue to pursue that in an academic way and solidify my background understanding. 

What attracted you to this program in the first place? 

Definitely the content. I felt the content offerings at the time and what they were advertising for the future was very attractive. To give you an example, one of the pathway courses, the Sensors and Motors courses, was basically what I was doing in my career at the time. I was able to take a lot of what I was doing in my Day-to-Day career and really be able to see a lot of background information I didn’t have, things that I learned while doing on the job, later I was able to go through the lecture and see why that works that way. Seeing the quality and extent of the content was a big selling point for me. Second big selling point was that it was an online, asynchronous master’s program. There’s a lot of master’s programs out there for softer sciences and for computer science with this set up but for Electrical Engineering not so much. When I first saw it, I wondered why there aren’t that many out there and how CU Boulder is pulling it off but when you see what exactly is being taught in these courses you understand why this was a good thing and why it worked for me at the time. 

What are your thoughts about performance-based admission?

I did not know about this before starting. I took the first course (free Sensors Course) and began reading through the website and it became apparent. At first, I was confused because it was not traditional. I am aware of a couple more programs that are doing this now, but it was not something I was accustomed to at the time. So, to be able to really jump at it without having this soft barrier of entry was helpful. It really made it easier for me to see the value of the program without having to consider, do I really want to pay this application fee for something I might not get into. 

I think what really helped sell that it was real for me was that it was during the pandemic and a lot of places were getting rid of GRE requirements and that type of set up. 

The performance-based admissions were very useful in getting started and being able to tell this is something I want to keep doing. 

How did you learn/hear about CU Boulder’s MS-EE on Coursera Program?

I was researching remote and asynchronous opportunities in the field I work in. I previously worked in a multidisciplinary environment. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do but knew that electrical engineering was definitely an option. While I was exploring my options from reputable companies, I came across Coursera and all the different degree options available, including Electrical Engineering, which is a topic I particularly enjoy and had previous experience in which is why I choose to pursue that.  

Can you tell me how the MS-EE on Coursera program fits into your life?

I think this is the greatest strength of the program, the fact that it is asynchronous and has the flexibility that has allowed me to succeed. It would have been extremely difficult to go through a traditional program where I know I would have to be at school at a certain time and work around having a career and a kid. Let me give one example of this. Not all courses were good for this but many courses I would have the lecture playing in the background while commuting to work and when I get home and my kid is asleep, I could listen to it a second time and I can really pay attention and am no longer hearing it the first time so the content can get really deep in my mind and I am really understanding it much better that way. 

What are your favorite parts of the program?

There is so much. One of my concerns starting this program with it being remote, especially at the master’s level, was how much collaboration and interaction am I going to be able to have with classmates, but that was not something I felt I was lacking as I was going through the program. The Forums and use of Slack really helped create a sense of community, such as there are a lot of other students struggling with the same problem I am, and we can all get in together and chat about it. The availability of the course facilitators was also great, to be able to know that there was always someone there so I can hop online, and someone will be there to help me with whatever problem or roadblock I am facing, was a great part of the program for me.

I really enjoyed the Sensors courses, but I am biased towards them as that was what I was doing, so I could really immediately see I am reading about temperature sensors and tomorrow I am going to go to work and install some temperature sensors and so that worked great. 

The battery management courses were fantastic. I really enjoyed these courses. I thought the professor was really engaging and the material was very interesting, especially how it relates to all the changes in technology that we are seeing nowadays. Plus, the assignments were particularly enjoyable, as far as not only learning about the content but also applying it, there was quite a bit of software involved with it and I enjoyed this interaction between the two. Knowing how to do Electrical Engineering and applying it by writing software.    

I also enjoyed the Optics course, but I have a personal bias as there was a project, I was working on at work that wasn’t going anywhere and we couldn’t figure out why and then I learned why through the optics courses, there was some fundamental issues that my team just didn’t have the background knowledge. I was able to go back to work and say “this is why that project failed, we had this incorrect assumption.” 

What do you hope to do with your MS-EE degree?

Career changes and advancements have already materialized which is great for me and my family. One of the courses that I learned, developing industrial internet of things specialization courses, the professor, David Sluiter, one of things he talked about was getting the project management professional certificate. He talked a lot about how those fits into the general realm of project engineering. I saw that as a great thing to pursue and so I went out and I got a PMP and using my Master of Science in Electrical Engineering plus the certification that I learned about through the program, I was able to pursue the job I currently work at, at Boeing as a Project Engineer. It was really a great step up in my career at that point. If I hadn’t made that switch, I know I would have been able to use this degree to advance at my previous employer too.

Would you recommend this program to others? Why or why not?

I actively recommend this program to anybody that I feel may be interested in, pursuing, or is looking into something like this. The content is fantastic, I learned a lot, and the flexibility of having an asynchronous program, and really being able to fit it into a busy schedule was enabling. It would have been difficult to do otherwise. 

The performance-based admission part of it is something that really opens a lot of doors for people like me who didn’t really have them before. I didn’t complete my bachelors before this program. I was really close to finishing and I started my career and was not able to finish it before because I could not fit in going to school at a traditional program and work full time, which I needed to do at the time and so the performance-based admission was life changing for me.  

What is one tip you have for students who are starting?

Take your time. Beyond the fantastic content, the great instructors, the name that CU Boulder has, at the end of the day, you have got to use whatever tools and advantages you have and the biggest one with this program is the flexibility that this program allows you to have. So, take your time. There is no shame in taking it one course at a time.

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