Why did you decide to earn a degree at Harvard Extension?
I was not looking to get a degree when I first started my journey with Harvard in 2011. I enrolled in Henry Leitner’s programming class because my son was enrolled in it, and I wanted to ensure that the content was relevant and that he was comfortable.
Harvard Extension was a lifesaver for my son, who was diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities by educational psychologists, and asked to attend a school for the intellectually disabled. Our own psychologists had advised me otherwise when he was tested profoundly gifted. I homeschooled him, and he completed grade 12. I then enrolled him in classes with Harvard Extension.
While sitting in his classes as a fully enrolled student, I got to update my skills as a programmer. I had been out of touch for almost 25 years by then. I used to be a programmer and then moved on to a senior management position. I became the CEO of a software company and later began teaching entrepreneurship.
At that point, I was in the midst of research on modern education and its relevance today (clearly because of my experience with my son). I decided that there are resources at Harvard that can help me put my thoughts into a process.
Ultimately, I will have solutions not only for myself, but for other parents in the same situation. Then, I thought a little further: I can make solutions for communities, for governments, for the unschooled, for the remotest parts of the world. In fact, I realized, I can change the world if I were to harness the power of technology in education.
To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
How did you manage to balance your studies with work and family responsibilities?
Throughout my time at Harvard, I had to bring up five young children singlehandedly (then 6 to 16 years old). Some were homeschooled and some were attending universities throughout my time at Harvard. At the same time, I was still teaching as a full-time faculty member with Singapore Management University. I founded one of my companies, All Gifted, at that time and filed a patent in 2016.
I cope by just taking my time to complete the degree. I didn’t have to think about how to cope; I just kept going. In fact, I was not aiming for a master’s degree. I was just happy to learn something new every semester. I am enjoying it so much. It is very likely I will continue to learn with Harvard Extension even after graduation. There’s so much I can learn! Not to mention this journey has given me new purpose.
Do you have a favorite class or faculty member?
I love Nick Manley and Allyson Sherlock. They changed my life. I am impressed by Andrew Engelward—his teaching ethics and academic brilliance. I am infected by Jen Kramer’s enthusiasm, and I am inspired by Henry Leitner’s commitment. Susan Buck’s course is like a roadmap to becoming a full-stack programmer.
Describe your Extension School experience in one word.
Life-changing. Not only for mine but my son’s. He has graduated with his bachelor’s by transferring the credits from Harvard Extension to another university. He begins his master’s with Harvard in June 2018, and is looking forward to it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.