September 2004 
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.


‘School made all the difference’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.

Boeing invests in future learners

Boeing invests in future learners

For some kids, going back to school means much more than getting new books and clothes. It's a chance to become a resourceful citizen and lifelong learner.

That's why Boeing works with community-based organizations each year to promote early learning and school readiness. For example, Boeing contributes to the Northwest School for Hearing Impaired Children in Seattle. The school helps hearing-impaired students use complete, original English sentences; its techniques help promote general academic success and growth in self-confidence among its students.

Above, Shannon Taaffe, a preschool teacher at the school, works with a student. Boeing and other local businesses have provided grants to the school since its inception in 1982.

In addition to education grants that enhance teacher and school-leader capabilities, Boeing is taking a leadership role in working with early-learning experts to engage other businesses to help create a world-class network of support for parents.


Juggling a full class load with a full-time job was challenging, and the couple relinquished weekends and vacations to their books. They did well, and in the summer of 2000 they donned caps and gowns and graduated alongside their children. Rebekah's grade point average was 3.8. Steve's was 3.7

"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."

Learning Together helps further your education

Boeing employees seeking to prepare themselves for that next job or that next opportunity should take advantage of the Boeing Learning Together Program. Learning Together is a company resource that promotes lifelong learning and helps the company attract and retain a diverse and skilled work force," said Billy Gibbs, program manager. Through the program, eligible employees may choose any course of study, and Boeing pays for tuition, books and other required expenses for classes successfully completed at accredited schools. Since 1998, more than 110,000 Boeing employees have participated in the program, and more than 12,000 have graduated with a college degree. This year, more than 16,000 employees are enrolled. For details, Boeing employees may access the Learning Together Web site at


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