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CAEL Pathways Blog

Ten-plus Years, Two Degrees (and Counting), and One Recipient of NACTEL’s Founders Award

Each year, the National Alliance for Communications, Technology, Education and Learning (NACTEL) presents its Founders Award to honor an adult learner whose perseverance and passion for lifelong learning exemplify the great potential of NACTEL educational opportunities. NACTEL brings employers and unions together to help design and promote online education programs that meet the needs of current and future telecommunications professionals. NACTEL's education partner, Pace University, offers online courses, badges, certificates, and degrees developed by and for the industry. To be eligible for the Founders Award, students must complete an associate or bachelor's degree while maintaining a minimum GPA of 3.25. 

Christopher and Nancy

Chris Jewell, a cable splicing technician for Verizon's fiber-optic network, is the 2024 Founders Award winner. Jewell began his career with Verizon, a NACTEL member, in 2004. He is represented by the Communications Workers of America, also a NACTEL member. NACTEL's online education program is available to more than 2 million workers in the communication technologies industry. Since the alliance's founding, more than 35,000 adult learners have enrolled in a NACTEL education program.

Last year, Jewell completed his B.S. in professional technology studies. It follows an associate degree in information technology he completed in 2010. Both degrees are within Pace University's telecommunications field of study.

Jewell, a first-generation college student, did not begin his pursuit of a degree until after his own children were born. His journey to (multiple) degree completion was unquestionably one of perseverance, and one that his son and daughter witnessed throughout their upbringing. "My journey has taught both of my young adults to keep striving to meet the goals you have set out for yourself, no matter how long it may take," said Jewell. "It has taken me over 10 years to complete a four-year degree (2005-2010 for his A.S. and 2018-2023 for his B.S.) No one in my immediate family has a college education, and I set a goal to get a bachelor's degree, which I finally have achieved!"

While Jewell's completion pathway might seem long to some, a thoughtful strategy was behind his approach. "Balancing work and school for me was not too challenging due to the fact that I only would take one class per semester," he said. "This would also allow me to focus more on the particular topics of each class. Although it did take much longer to complete, I feel I was able to achieve a higher standard for myself." 

Jewell discovered NACTEL through Verizon's tuition assistance benefit. "I saw a link to the NACTEL program on the company website, read about the programs offered, and decided it would be a good fit for myself as a telecom employee," he said. 

Verizon offered tuition assistance, which helped cover his annual costs, he pointed out. “They paid for both of my degrees."

Tuition assistance wasn't all that attracted Jewell to NACTEL. "Working with Verizon, I wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology to help advance my career using my education provided by Pace," he said. "Technology in our field of work is constantly advancing; working on a daily basis with the same group and same equipment does not allow for much technological expansion. By keeping myself engaged in schooling via Pace, I am able to discuss new ways and ideas to the team for our everyday work practices."

Jewell urges other adult learners to stay engaged with their studies even if they have to start and stop their education because of family or work obligations. "I would say if you have the resources and ambition to continue your education and advance your career, then why not? Once you have the degree it can only help you in the future. I plan on taking a short break to enjoy my summer and then I will be looking into a master's Program. I plan on getting as much education as Verizon is willing to pay for."

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