When Beth Quay received her bachelor’s degree in 1974 from the Georgia Institute of Technology, continuing on for her master’s was the plan. But, life can sometimes get in the way, and although she put her plan on hold, she circled back. In 2022, at 71, she collected her master’s diploma, 48 years later.
“My mother and father always taught me I could do anything I wanted, and growing up, it was always expected I’d go to college,” Quay told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
When she was young, Quay had plenty of examples of women who pursued education. Her father’s mother was a teacher and Quay had an aunt who got a master’s in the 1950s and then went on to get her Ph.D. at 62.
When Quay received her undergraduate degree in industrial engineering, college was very different than it is today. Female students on Georgia Tech’s campus had only been there since 1952 when the Board of Regents voted to admit women. There were only 80 women, according to Quay, in the whole College of Engineering, which is where her program was. Often, she was the only woman in her class.
“Tech men were fantastic,” Quay said. “Going to school in the ‘70s was a very great experience.”
After college, Quay worked for The Coca-Company with her fellow engineers and ended up building a house 40 miles away from Georgia Tech’s campus. Getting to classes from work was easy, but driving home later in the evening was a challenge. Her husband, Dave Quay, and brother, Wiley Hendrix, then opened Atlanta Stuttgart Auto Parts, and Quay devoted her time to helping that grow.
Quay is now a business analyst for Compass Group, and it was in this role that her thoughts turned back to her education.
“I wanted to refresh my skills because I have every intention to keep on working. I want to be equipped to be beneficial and fresh in my job,” Quay said.
Her educational aspirations, however, didn’t start up again until 2018. After losing her husband of 43 years, Quay needed to point herself in a new direction.
“It was at this point in time where I had an opportunity,” Quay said.
Going back to earn her Master of Science in Analytics, though, proved to be a very different experience than her first time around. Now, distance learning was in vogue, and education suddenly become so much more accessible.
“Online learning offered me an opportunity I didn’t have previously,” Quay said.
Quay found college was still a “really positive experience,” and enjoyed how well-developed the master’s in analytics program was. The pacing was just right and there was plenty of support and interaction with her fellow students, she said.
“Nobody really thought about age,” Quay said when asked if she was the oldest person in her class.
For three years, Quay would work during the day and focus on classwork at night and on weekends.
Now, with these new skills, Quay is excited about what she can do to better herself professionally. She began to immediately use the methodologies she was learning at school in her work projects. With a value add to her day-to-day while still in class, Quay says her company was very pleased by her pursuing her master’s.
Her knowledge is also helping her stay relevant, and even get ahead of her colleagues.
“I’m able to do some things others don’t have the skills to do,” Quay said.
Quay found her master’s program helped introduce her to the latest technological advances related to analytics.
“As we age, things change so radically because of advances in technology. Much of what we were taught initially has become obsolete,” Quay said.
Throughout this process, she’s been able to refresh her skills and reintroduce herself to analytics, learning new skills that make her more marketable as an employee.
When it came time to graduate, Quay headed into commencement with a mix of emotions. Even though she reached this accomplishment without her husband beside her, Quay’s brother Wiley, his three children, Tamara, Ella, and Pierce, and Quay’s niece’s boyfriend, Alex Goll, whom Quay refers to as her “adopted” nephew, represented her family and watched her walk to get her diploma.
Quay was delighted to get her master’s, but a little sad that the experience was over. As a result, she’s looking into the possibility of getting a second master’s in a different area or even going for her Ph.D.
“Today, there are incredible opportunities through online programs. You can explore almost any curriculum now,” Quay said.
Quay believes age and time shouldn’t be the reasons anyone uses to not pursue more education. For others thinking about going back after a big gap, though, she suggests doing a little refresh before diving all the way in.
“Look at old textbooks and reintroduce yourself to those tough subjects, or find a free course to help with basic skill updates so you feel more prepared,” Quay said.
She’s also quick to stress that this isn’t a lifetime commitment you’re making, so you can start slowly and see how it works out.
“You’ll be surprised at how well you do, although it’s not without challenges, but, then, challenge is a good thing.”
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