Discover how Luis Plata was able to gain a master’s and certificate while working full time

Luis Plata was a senior mechanical engineer before coming to CU Boulder’s MS-EE on Coursera Program. In January 2021, Luis earned the Internet of Things certificate on Coursera, and in December 2021, Luis graduated from the MS-EE program and was able to attend CU Boulder’s graduation ceremony in May 2022. Read more to learn about his MS experience – The EE program!

When did you enroll in the MS-EE on Coursera program?

I registered in the summer of 2020, in the middle of the second summer semester.

Were you in the non-credit version before signing up for the credit version?

I tried the free sensor course and I was hooked and wanted to pursue this further.

What was your educational and work experience background prior to enrolling in this program?

I was in an interdisciplinary role, I did a lot of mechanical, software engineering, but a big focus of my role was in electrical engineering, so it felt very natural to continue to pursue it in an academic way and strengthen my background understanding.

What attracted you to this program in the first place?

Definitely the content. I felt the content offerings at the time and what they advertised for the future was very attractive. To give you an example, one of the courses, sensors and motors, was basically what I was doing in my career at that time. I was able to take a lot of what I was doing in my day-to-day career and really be able to see a lot of background information that I didn’t have, things that I learned while doing on the job, later I was able to review the lecture and see why it works that way. Seeing the quality and scope of the content was a big selling point for me. Another big selling point was that it was an online, asynchronous master’s degree. There are many masters programs out there for softer sciences and for computer science with this setup, but for electrical engineering not so much. When I first saw it, I wondered why there aren’t that many out there and how CU Boulder does it, but when you see what exactly is being taught in these courses, you understand why it was a good thing , and why it worked for me then.

What are your thoughts on performance-based admissions?

I didn’t know about this before I started. I took the first course (free sensor course) and started reading the website and it became clear. At first I was confused because it wasn’t traditional. I’m aware of a few more programs that do this now, but it wasn’t something I was used to at the time. So it was helpful to be able to really jump on it without having this soft barrier to entry. It really made it easier for me to see the value of the program without having to consider if I really want to pay this application fee for something I might not get into.

I think what really helped sell that it was right for me was that it was during the pandemic and a lot of places were removing the GRE requirements and that type of setup.

The performance-based admissions were very helpful in getting me started and being able to say that this is something I want to keep doing.

How did you learn/hear about CU Boulder’s MS-EE on Coursera program?

I was researching remote and asynchronous options in the field I work in. I have previously worked in an interdisciplinary environment. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but knew that electrical engineering was definitely a possibility. While researching my options from reputable companies, I came across Coursera and all the different educational opportunities available, including Electrical Engineering, which is a subject I am particularly fond of and had previous experience of, why I choose to pursue it.

Can you tell me how the MS-EE on Coursera program fits into your life?

I think that is the greatest strength of the program, the fact that it is asynchronous and has the flexibility that has allowed me to be successful. It would have been extremely difficult to go through a traditional program where I know I had to be in school at a certain time and work around having a career and a child. Let me give an example of this. Not all courses were good for this but many courses I would have the lecture play in the background while commuting to work and when I get home and my child is asleep I could listen to it a second time and I can really pay attention and am no longer hearing it the first time, so the content can get really deep in my mind and I really understand it much better that way.

What are your favorite parts of the program?

There is so much. One of my concerns starting this program with it being remote, especially at the master’s level, was how much collaboration and interaction I will be able to have with classmates, but it wasn’t something I felt I was lacking, as I went through the program. The forums and using Slack really helped create a sense of community like there are a lot of other students struggling with the same problem as me and we can all get together and talk about it. The availability of the course facilitators was also great, being able to know that someone was always there so I can jump online and someone will be there to help me with whatever problem or roadblock I’m facing , was a big part of the program for me.

I really enjoyed the sensor courses but I’m biased towards them as that’s what I was doing so I could really see straight away I’m reading about temperature sensors and tomorrow I’m going to work and install some temperature sensors and it worked fantastic.

The battery management courses were fantastic. I really enjoyed these courses. I found the professor to be really engaging and the material very interesting, especially how it relates to all the changes in technology that we see today. Additionally, the tasks were particularly enjoyable as not only learning about the content but also applying it, there was quite a bit of software involved and I enjoyed this interaction between the two. Knowing how to do electrical engineering and apply it by writing software.

I also enjoyed the optics course but I have a personal bias as there was a project I was working on at work that went nowhere and we couldn’t figure out why and then I learned why through the optics courses there were some fundamental issues that my team just didn’t have the background knowledge of. I was able to go back to work and say “this is why that project failed, we had this wrong assumption.”

What do you hope to do with your MS-EE degree?

Career changes and advancements have already happened, which is great for me and my family. One of the courses that I taught, development of industrial internet of things specialization courses, the professor, David Sluiter, one of the things he talked about was getting the project management certificate. He talked a lot about how they fit into the general field of project engineering. I saw it as a great thing to pursue and so I went out and I got a PMP and using my Master of Science in Electrical Engineering plus the certification that I learned about through the program I was able to pursue the job I’m currently working on, at Boeing as a project engineer. It was really a big step up in my career at the time. If I hadn’t made that switch, I know that I would also have been able to use this degree to advance at my former employer.

Would you recommend this program to others? Why or why not?

I actively recommend this program to anyone who I feel may be interested in, pursuing or researching something like this. The content is great, I learned a lot and the flexibility of having an asynchronous program and really being able to fit it into a busy schedule was possible. It would have been difficult to do otherwise.

The performance-based recording part of it is something that really opens a lot of doors for people like me who didn’t really have them before. I did not complete my bachelors before this program. I was really close to graduating and I started my career and wasn’t able to finish it sooner because I couldn’t fit in going to school in a traditional program and working full time which I had to do that time, and so performance-based admission was life-changing for me.

What is one tip you have for students starting out?

Take your time. Beyond the great content, the great instructors, the name that CU Boulder has, ultimately you have to use the tools and benefits that you have, and the biggest thing about this program is the flexibility that this program allows you to have. So take your time. There is no shame in taking one course at a time.


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