Volume 03, Issue 5
'School made all the difference'
As a new school year begins, Boeing Frontiers looks at people who have used the company's Learning Together Program.
By ELLEN WHITFORD
When Steve Crandall decided at the age of 42 to complete the coursework for a bachelor's degree, he had no notion how profoundly it would change his life.
An estimator for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, he knew his associate's degree held him back, and he felt the pressure of passing time. But he did not suspect that college would open up a future that he long ago dismissed as out of reach; or fundamentally change his sense of self.
"It's been a blessing," he said. "School made all the difference."
Learning Together, which paid for his education, helped make that difference. Since the program was launched in 1998, it has paid educational expenses for more than 110,000 Boeing employees. With Learning Together financial aid, more than 12,000 people have, like Steve, earned a college degree.
Most of his life, Steve thought college was beyond his abilities. "You don't have what it takes," a high school counselor told him. Soon after, another counselor offered a similar assessment and advised: "Aim low. You'll never achieve too much."
Disheartened, Steve enlisted in the military. Discharged three years later, he got an associate's degree, took a job with Boeing and began to raise a family.
But in 1998, with his son and daughter in college, the idea nagged at him. "I wasn't sure I could handle it," Steve said. "But I felt a sense of panic that if I didn't return to college then, I might never go."
As it happened, his wife Rebekah wanted to return to college, too. Like Steve, she had an associate's degree. So in 1998, they enrolled at Northwest College in Kirkland, Wash., where their children were students. College tuition for the children and Rebekah-not then a Boeing employee-was a hefty sum. Without Learning Together, Steve could not have afforded to return to school.
"Magna cum laude," said Steve, his voice tinged with pride and pleasure. He finds the achievement remarkable.
Equally remarkable was what he learned about himself at college: A counselor diagnosed him as having attention deficit disorder. The condition typically makes sustained concentration difficult; many people with ADD are poor students. For the first time, Steve had an explanation for why he sometimes struggled to stay focused.
The diagnosis and the grade point average were watershed events. "It entirely changed my self perception," Steve said. He began to reinvent himself.
Imbued with new confidence, he decided to pursue a master's degree. He turned to counseling, a long-standing interest; and Rebekah-by then a business analyst with Information Systems at Commercial Airplanes-joined him.
Again, Learning Together made it financially possible. Steve and Rebekah juggled jobs, courses and fieldwork. In July 2003, they received graduate degrees in mental health counseling. Again, they graduated with honors.
Nowadays, each works three evenings every week at a United Way agency in the Seattle area, counseling troubled children and their families. It gives them enormous satisfaction. "You're working with incredible families," Rebekah said. "And you know you're making a difference."
In 2005 they hope to start a private counseling practice that they will make their full-time work when they retire.
Rebekah's explanation for her new direction is simple and straightforward: "I want to affect people's lives in a positive way," she said. "At Boeing, I work with numbers, which don't always do that."
Steve's explanation is a little more complex. "You carry old baggage with you," he said of the counselors' comments so long ago. He wants to offer the kind of compassionate encouragement he never received.
"Kids come in who are self-destructive and who have no faith in themselves," he said of his clientele at the United Way agency where he works evenings. "I want them to know they are worthwhile and valuable. I want them to see how many things are within their reach. I can't think how I could leave a better legacy than that."
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