Race car mechanic gets on right track with online studies

Michael Ribas, 48, was a mechanic with an IndyCar racing team in North Carolina, which to most people would seem like an exciting career. But as he got older, while Ribas wanted to stay in racing, he wanted to move on to another position within the team. His interest was in public relations and for that career move, he would need a bachelor’s degree.

Because his work kept him on the road, he decided it would be easiest for him to earn his bachelor’s degree in social sciences online. Before he even graduated in 2008, he got his wish and was named public relations manager for his race team.

Q: What made you decide to earn your online social sciences degree?

A: In my job, I was traveling with the team 120 days a year. When we were at the racetrack, it was 12-hour days, so I had to go with something that would be very flexible. I might have preferred attending a bricks-and-mortar school but it just wasn’t possible under the circumstances.

Q: What were the challenges of earning a social sciences degree online?

A: No doubt, time management. When you go to school online, you have to manage your time well. Because I was working so much, any down time I had, I devoted to my school work. I had quite a bit of school work to do and just finding the time was a challenge. Also, accessing the Internet to be able to do my research and writing was an issue sometimes. I remember being in a hotel in Toronto and they charged for using the Internet. I had to lug my notepads and computer around trying to find a coffee shop that had Internet access for free.

I spent a great deal of time flying with the team and when you’re on an airplane, you can’t use the Internet. I had to be sure to download my classmates’ posts on Blackboard so that I could work on my responses while we were flying and be able to post them once we landed and I had Internet access again.

Q: Were you able to interact with professors and others students when attending school online?

A: I was able to interact with the students and especially those who were putting in the same effort I was. I was very competitive and wanted to be the best I could be. Because they challenged themselves, they challenged me. Some of the professors were better than others at responding to your questions, and I didn’t like having to wait for their responses, but I found most of those who were taking and teaching classes online were very helpful and I enjoyed interacting with them.

Q: How did your earning your online degree in social sciences help you get your first job in your field?

A: It helped me some, if not directly. I got the job before I completed my degree, but what I was learning in my online classes was very useful in my new responsibilities. Going to school online requires a lot of writing — you have to respond to your classmates’ posts on Blackboard — and so does public relations. When there was an entry-level opening in public relations with the team, they were willing to give me a shot. I had to do the job well enough to justify them keeping me around while I finished my degree.

Q: What advice would you give others who are considering earning a degree online?

A: Remember that it’s like anything else, whatever you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. If it’s something you want to do, go for it. Earning a degree online is gaining legitimacy. I think today people believe a college degree is a college degree. I would definitely recommend it if it works for you and fits your schedule.