From the Supermarket to Success: How One OSU Alumnus Achieved his American Dream

by Spears School News Staff 
(February 11, 2011 at 1:32 pm)

In the United States, we have always been told to “Chase the American Dream” and been taught that through hard work, vigilance and determination we can all achieve great things and make our fantasies into realities. No American exemplifies this concept more than Oklahoma State University alumnus Jason Collins.

Collins, who graduated from OSU’s Spears School of Business in 2009 with a master’s degree in telecommunications management and a graduate certificate in information assurance, began his career as an employee at United Supermarkets in his hometown of Guymon, Okla. Through perseverance and an incredible work ethic, he not only climbed to a management position with United, but he also earned three degrees, is working on his fourth, and is now employed as a system administrator/network manager at the Lawton, Okla., branch of CGI Federal, a company that was rated No. 14 on BusinessWeek’s “Tech Hot Growth Companies” in 2010. 

“In my own mind, it was quite an accomplishment to start at the bottom in the retail industry, work my way up with no education other than a high school diploma, and educate myself in order to provide a better life for my family,” Collins said. “It took a lot of work, but it was well worth it! Managing a supermarket, you work a lot of hours along with a lot of holidays and weekends. Now, I work a 40-hour week and have all of the regular government holidays off!”

Collins said achieving his dreams has been a long process. Directly after high school, he attended OSU’s campus in Okmulgee, Okla., for a year but decided it was not the right time for him to attend college. After working at United for nine years, he said he realized he needed to go back and finish his education if he really wanted to achieve his goals.

In 1999, he began attending Cameron University in Lawton, Okla., where he earned an associate’s degree in Telecommunications Electronics Systems in 2003 and a bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering Technology in 2006. But even these accomplishments were not enough for Collins.

“As I grew closer to graduation, I was trying to pay close attention to employment listings to see what might be available when I obtained my bachelor’s degree,” Collins said. “It was obvious that I would be competing against people my age who not only had a bachelor’s degree, but now also had more than 10 years experience in the field. That made the next step, the master’s degree, even more attractive. Since my dad had attended OSU, my brother had his master’s degree and Ph.D. from OSU, and I had started at OSU, my first choice was evident!”

As a non-traditional student with a family, Collins chose to use the distance learning option to attain his master’s degree from OSU. He said the Spears School’s use of the Desire2Learn© online classroom and class lecture videos proved effective, in addition to the instructor’s prompt and considerate responses to his e-mails. Collins said his experience was overwhelmingly positive and he felt like he was given the same advantages of a traditional student, which was something he had never come across at other schools.

“With my luck, if someone was going to get a bad experience, it would have been me,” Collins joked. “However, the opposite was the case. I didn’t have a single instructor, faculty or staff member who I didn’t like, who wasn’t helpful, or who ever neglected to respond to me about an issue. I have taken a plethora of classes online or through some sort of distance learning option. Of all the schools I have attended, OSU has been the best one by far.”

The staff and faculty in the Spears School return Collins’ regard, stating that his focus, determination and personality made him a truly inspiring student.

“Jason is a testament to what someone can accomplish when they are willing to work,” said Jay Boyington, assistant director for graduate programs in the Spears School. “Here is a guy working at a supermarket in southwest Oklahoma while taking classes from a university nearly 200 miles away. The classes are challenging and the expected level of performance leaves little room for error. He’s working, meeting family obligations, putting in hours viewing lectures, studying for exams and writing papers. Jason chose to put himself through the wringer for nearly three years, and yet he was always the most pleasant person. Some people want the whole world to know they are suffering but not Jason. He knew this was going to pay off, and now he has a career, not just another job.”

Collins said he was offered his current position after completing an internship as a course requirement at OSU. In addition to working full time at CGI Federal, Collins said he is also pursuing a doctorate degree from North Central University in Arizona, even though he lives on a farm in Frederick, Okla. Though he has switched universities, Collins said he is always quick to share his experiences with potential OSU students.

“I completely recommend OSU to prospective students,” Collins said. “Sometimes I have to prelude my speech with, ‘I know you’re a Sooner fan,’ but then I crawl up on my soap box and say, ‘If you really want to obtain your master’s degree, OSU has a program and delivery method that is second to none!’

“I don’t want to sound like I am bragging about what I have accomplished because I know without my faith in God and the overwhelming support that I have had from family I would have never made it. But, in the same respect, I have a great sense of accomplishment, knowing I didn’t give up and that I have been able to continue my education, both for myself and for my family. It makes me feel good that what I have done might encourage someone else to think they can do the same or maybe achieve even more.”

If you are interested in learning more about Collins or the Spears School’s graduate programs, contact Boyington at 405-744-2951 or jay.boyington@okstate.edu.