Never too late to pursue education

Taking a break from a successful career to go back to school and get a degree is a move many people don’t make.

It was a tough choice for Benjamin Behrend but one that has paid off. Behrend graduated in December 2015 with a 4.12 GPA and was the Information Systems Department Outstanding Graduating Senior.

“It’s really hard, you get into the workforce, you have a family, you start thinking about how much time you’re not going to have,” he said about the decision to go back to school. “I guess there’s always an excuse to not do something.”

After high school, Behrend attended a technical college and then jumped right into the working world, as an IT desktop support specialist at Discount Tire Company. He spent 10 years climbing his way up the corporate ladder but, after encouragement from his employer, he decided to let his career take a backseat to his education.

“It was always on my mind to go back and get a degree,” he said.

The commitment

Ben Behrend

For Behrend, the value of the degree was much more than the career advancement it offered, it was the commitment he made to himself to stick with it despite the distractions of life.

“The biggest thing for me was the accomplishment from a personal level. It's always been something I have wanted to do,” he said. “If I was smarter I would have done it before having children!”

Once Behrend officially became a student again, he wanted to make the most of his time in school and decided to get two bachelor’s degrees: computer information systems and business data analytics.

“Ben embraced the challenge, coming back to school after laying the groundwork for a successful career in networking, security and technology management for over a decade with the Discount Tire,” said Professor Raghu Santanam, chair of the Department of Information Systems, in his letter nominating Behrend for the Outstanding Graduating Senior award.

Behrend immersed himself in college life, taking electives outside his area of expertise such as cultural diversity in health, personal growth in human relationships and mobile app development.

A balancing act

“The biggest challenge was trying to balance all the different aspects of life,” Behrend said.

Santanam said Behrend excelled as a student in a demanding dual major program, and “he has done so while serving as an exceptional role model for his three young children,” he said.

Behrend said that although he wears several hats in the office and in the classroom, he hangs his favorite hat at home. “The most challenging and also most rewarding experience has been my role as a dad,” he said in his nomination letter for the Outstanding Graduating Senior award.

His children were the biggest motivator in pushing him to finish school and get his degree. He needed to be a good example and show his kids that all the hard work he put in would pay off. “If dad can do it, so can they,” he said.

His demanding schedule didn’t allow for many hobbies during school but now that Behrend has graduated, he’s making time to coach his son’s flag football team, teach his daughter to play piano and enjoy playing with his 8-month-old baby.

“I’m trying to enjoy the little things in life we overlook,” he said.

The payoff

Behrend was named employee of the year at Discount Tire, and after graduating, he was promoted to information security architect. He is one of a few individuals responsible for the design, architecture and recommendations for information technology solutions at the tire company.

“Ben has embodied the spirit of the technology intraprenuer, innovating from within the organization,” Santanam said.

In his new role, Behrend is responsible for providing leadership and direction to the technology team and gives special attention to security issues. He said online security has become a major concern in the past three to five years. Taking care of the customer is most important, Behrend said, and that includes taking care of their personal information.

“You can buy tires anywhere but we care about the people that walk into our store and want to take care of them,” he said.

Discount Tire is the largest independent tire company in the world, Behrend said, with more than 900 retail stores, more than twice the number when he began working for the company. He said he’s always looking for new technologies or projects to serve customers better.

“At the end of the day all we have is the smile on our face and our reputation for taking care of people,” he said.