Graduate Programs

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In this episode of Victors in Grad School podcast, we discuss the importance of strategic preparation for graduate school with guest Helen Budd, the Program Manager for the Student Veterans Resource Center at the University of Michigan, Flint. Helen shares her own educational journey, highlighting her transition from a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and, later, a Master of Public Administration (MPA). She emphasizes the value of using employer benefits and resources.

Key Points Discussed:

  1. Preparing for Graduate School: Helen describes her journey, explaining how she moved to the United States with diplomas from England, only to realize they held no equivalency. To find gainful employment, she worked at Cleary University, where she ultimately pursued her bachelor’s degree.
  2. Choosing the Right Path: Helen’s decision to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) arose from her employer’s tuition waiver program and her commitment to using the benefits available to her. She later shifted her focus to nonprofit management, aligning her studies with her passion for service.
  3. Success in Grad School: To succeed in graduate school, Helen underscores the importance of setting priorities, utilizing resources such as university libraries and online tools like Purdue Owl. She also recommends seeking guidance from instructors, advisors, and fellow students.
  4. Overcoming Impostor Syndrome: Helen experienced some self-doubt when transitioning to her second master’s degree. However, through encouragement from mentors and a thorough examination of her capabilities, she decided to move forward with confidence.
  5. Benefits and Challenges for Veterans: Helen identifies the potential challenges veterans and military-connected students face when returning to school after a gap. She advises students to consider their priorities, such as using housing allowance payments, and to gradually adapt to the academic environment.
  6. Reaching Out for Support: Helen highlights the importance of seeking help and not hesitating to ask questions, as military culture can sometimes discourage seeking assistance. Students are encouraged to contact the appropriate department coordinators for guidance.
  7. Support for Military-Connected Individuals: Helen emphasizes that resources like the Veterans Readiness and Employment benefit and veteran support services are available for military-connected individuals. These services can help students navigate their education.
  8. Selecting the Right Program: Research is crucial when choosing the right graduate program. Students must ensure that their desired major and program align with their goals and are approved for VA education benefits.
  9. VA Approval and Elective Courses: Helen cautions students against taking courses that are not required for their program, as the VA will only cover essential coursework. Ensuring the courses you take apply to your degree is vital.

Conclusion: This podcast episode explores the importance of strategic preparation for graduate school, taking into account benefits, program selection, and available resources for military-connected individuals. Helen Budd’s journey and insights serve as valuable guidance for prospective graduate students.

This podcast is brought to you by The Office of Graduate programs at the University of Michigan-Flint. If you’re still wondering about other things to consider when it comes to graduate school, you can also contact the Office of Graduate Programs at UM-Flint. We’re here to answer questions Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST. You can also find out more about the 50+ programs that the university has to offer here.


Christopher Lewis [00:00:01]:

Welcome to the Victors in Grad School, where we have conversations with students, alumni, and experts about what it takes to find success in graduate school. Welcome back to Victors in grad school. I’m your host, dr. Christopher Lewis, director of Graduate Programs at the University of Michigan, Flint. Really excited to have you back again this week. Every week I love talking to you because each one of your journeys is just a little bit different. And it’s so important to be able to think very strategically about what you’re doing to prepare yourself for that educational journey that you either may already be on. You may be thinking about and you’re preparing about.

Christopher Lewis [00:00:43]:

Every person goes through something just a little bit different. So whether you’re going to law school, med school, you’re getting an MBA, you’re going to become a vet, no matter what it is, there are some specific things that you’re going to have to do to get into those programs. But more holistically, there are things that every grad student must think about and can do to prepare themselves well to find success in that graduate school journey. And that’s what this show is all about. This show is all about allowing you to be able to learn from others. Because every week I bring you different guests, different people that have gone before you that have had that experience of going to graduate school, are working with graduate students, or have had some other experience that will help you to find success in that journey. Today we’ve got another great guest with us. Helen Bud is with us.

Christopher Lewis [00:01:40]:

And Helen is the program manager for the Student Veterans Resource Center at the University of Michigan, Flint. And we’re going to be talking with her about her own educational journey, but we’re also going to talk about veterans and things that veterans need to be thinking about if they are planning to go to grad school. So we’re going to be talking about that as well. Helen, thanks so much for joining us today.

Helen Budd [00:02:04]:

Thank you for having me today.

Christopher Lewis [00:02:06]:

It is my pleasure having you here. I love being able to talk to different people. I know that in your own educational journey, you went through a you started your degree at Cleary University, got your BBA at Cleary, and at some point during that time that you were at Cleary, you made a decision to go on. You went on from the bachelor’s at Cleary to a master’s degree, an MBA at Cleary. And as you were thinking about that, talk to me about what was going through your head as you made that decision that you wanted to go further and you wanted to get that graduate degree.

Helen Budd [00:02:46]:

Well, I’m going to go back a few years. Obviously, I’m not from this country. Originally, I had completed a couple of Royal Society of Arts diplomas when I lived in England, one of them as a bilingual secretary in French and one for international trade in German, both considered to be degree level diplomas. Long story short, I moved to the US and I quickly learned that those diplomas actually meant nothing over here. There was no equivalent. And in order to succeed in the US. And to get gainful employment in the US, I had to do something about it. I started working at Cleary University in 2000 as the graduate programs assistant.

Helen Budd [00:03:39]:

It was our inaugural MBA, so I was in it from the ground up, which was quite exciting, and it was a part time position. I eventually got to full time started my bachelor’s journey at the university. You make choices, and I’m always a believer in using the benefits that your employer offers. So I used the tuition waiver program at Cleary, completed my bachelor’s degree as a single parent, nontraditional student. Midnight spent in front of the computer, you know how it goes. And I graduated in 2005 with my bachelor’s degree. I was going to start my master’s degree right away, and I realized that I didn’t really want to go into a business environment as such or manufacturing. And the only option at the time was the standard MBA.

Helen Budd [00:04:43]:

So I waited a year or two until we offered, or Cleary offered, the nonprofit management concentration. For me, that was an instant fit because of the work that I was already doing with our student veterans at Cleary and the fact that I have more of a service minded perspective than I do money making or operations at manufacturing. So the nonprofit degree was really the right choice for me. And I was at Cleary for 13 years. The perfect position opened up at U of M Flint, where I was able to focus just on our military connected students. That was my, and still is my passion. And I love what I do every single day. So it was a perfect fit for me.

Helen Budd [00:05:33]:

I applied for it, got the job, and I’ve been here ever since 2013.

Christopher Lewis [00:05:38]:

Now, you got here in 2013 during that time, and after a few years in, you made a decision to continue your education and you decided to work to get another master’s degree. What made you decide to continue and to build upon the MBA that you already had?

Helen Budd [00:06:00]:

Oh, given the environment that I’m in, again, I wanted to focus more on the governmental and public administration factors that the MBA that I had done wasn’t as focused on as the MPA here. So I looked at the curriculum. I didn’t do it right away because it had been a few years since I had written anything in APA format that initially terrified me. The second thing was, am I good enough to get a master’s degree from the University of Michigan? That was the other thing. I took a very careful look at that and then what changed my mind is that again, looking at employer benefits, I’m a big advocate of using the benefits that your employer offers, a huge advocate for that. And I looked at the MPA curriculum, I said, this suits me down to the ground. So I applied and I got all my references and everything because the work I had done for my MBA, looking back on it was incredibly challenging. It was not easy work.

Helen Budd [00:07:10]:

It was very difficult in some cases with the financial management and statistics. It wasn’t an easy course by any means. So my decision was, if I can handle that, I’m definitely going to throw my hat in the ring and give this a whirl and see how it goes. Take one class at a time and then just go into it gently, get back into APA format and get back into the academic environment again and graduated two years later. And it was so worth it because I met so many great people during this program. I loved it and it suits me down to the ground because I was able to focus a lot of my coursework towards my job. And that was another reason for choosing the MPA, because I could apply it directly to my work here in the Student Veterans Resource Center and to serving my students for you.

Christopher Lewis [00:08:10]:

You said you were a non traditional student as you went through your Bachelor’s, your first Master’s, your second Master’s, and through each of those steps, there were things that you had to do to be able to find success in those journeys. What did you have to do to set yourself up for success and what did you have to do to maintain that success? Throughout graduate school, I had to set.

Helen Budd [00:08:33]:

My priorities, make sure that I spent the appropriate amount of time on the research, the reading, using the resources that were available to me. For instance, here at, um, Flint, the library and the Purdue Owl website were my saving graces, because without those, it would have been a huge challenge. First of all, I’m older. Secondly, I’m not as technically advanced as I would have liked to be. And using those online resources and on campus resources, of course, were so helpful that I couldn’t have done it without it. My first course I took the time to use the library. I must have texted them like ten times a week with questions about formatting and citations that I’d forgotten from the last ten years or so since I had completed my Master’s. So using the resources, consulting with my advisor and speaking with my instructors was extremely helpful and getting the feedback from my classmates as well, definitely using the resources.

Helen Budd [00:09:51]:

The library is incredible. We have such a wonderful selection of thousands and thousands of articles and journals and everything that you could possibly want, and it is all available without having to pay for subscriptions and everything. So there’s one thing I would definitely say use that library and the online resources, because they will get you through it.

Christopher Lewis [00:10:17]:

One of the things you mentioned just a little bit ago was the fact that when you transitioned into the new graduate degree at the University of Michigan Flint, the Master’s of Public Administration, prior to applying and deciding to do that, there was some impostor syndrome that was creeping in. How did you get past that and push yourself to be able to get past that, to be able to then make the choice to go into that.

Helen Budd [00:10:44]:

Program, you had to do some soul searching. Realized that I’m surrounded. By some of the best academia and best staff members here in the university. And I have incredible support from everybody that I knew here. And I took a good look at myself and talked to some of my former faculty at Cleary and they said, Are you kidding? You can do this. This is going to be a breeze. You’ve managed to get through your MBA. What are you talking about? You’re perfect for this.

Helen Budd [00:11:18]:

So I went to the head and beaten to the fire and let’s just do this and not look back. But I do look back. You have to look back and be retrospective and see where you came from and where you’re going forward, because not every job lasts forever. I would love to think this one would. Who knows? I’m very happy where I am and I’ve got no plans to leave anybody here. I love what I do, where I do it. There are always things that happen, as we know, in government and administration. You just don’t know where you’re going to end up.

Helen Budd [00:11:58]:

So arming myself with a second master’s degree from the University of Michigan Rackham School of Graduate Studies has put me in greater competitive standing in the future and in my current endeavors, can’t beat it. I’m just so pleased that I did it.

Christopher Lewis [00:12:17]:

So you’ve completed your degrees. You’re still working at the University of Michigan Flint. How do you feel that the graduate degrees that you received prepared you for the work that you do on a daily basis?

Helen Budd [00:12:29]:

Well, there are so many things. We could be here for hours. I think going back to the MBA that I had now, being in the program manager role, I have to be more analytical managing the budget. So the work that I did during the MBA and forecasting and managing all the numbers and being more aware of what’s involved with that has definitely been helpful to me. I’ve used those tools. I’ve actually even used the lean six Sigma principles towards some of my MPA work. Looking back on how we got to the root cause of a problem or an issue that we want to improve going forward and the continuous improvement of the department, I have actually applied those principles that I learned during my MBA towards the work that I’m doing here.

Christopher Lewis [00:13:25]:

So the work that you’re doing at the University of Michigan Flint, and it builds on what you did at Cleary University is you are working with individuals that are connected to the armed forces. I called them veterans at the beginning, but you’re working also with active duty individuals, and you’ve worked with individuals that have gone to get their bachelor’s degree, but also those that decide to continue their education and work on that graduate degree. As you work with veterans that are looking at graduate school, what are some of the biggest challenges that those students tend to have as you’re working with them?

Helen Budd [00:14:04]:

One thing that stands out is that it may have been quite a while since they attended school for their bachelor’s degree. So if they’re coming in to get a Master’s degree like me, it was some time since the completion of my last master’s, they’re coming in from a bachelor’s perspective, possibly, and it may have been a while since they were in a classroom setting or dealing with the intricacies of zoom and canvas. And it can be a little bit overwhelming initially. Plus, we’re not getting any younger, I’ll be quite frank. I think the older we get that there was some research that I had done during my MPA for my Capstone project that it can be even more overwhelming for graduate students just as it is for undergraduate students because we have different learning styles. We have jobs. Very often, we have even more to juggle than we did perhaps during our bachelor’s degree days. And I think just that gap maybe between bachelor’s and masters can be intimidating.

Helen Budd [00:15:16]:

So as a graduate alumnus of University of Michigan, Flint having gone through the MPA program whenever I get a prospect who’s looking at the MPA or any of our degrees first thing I do is I introduce myself as having completed that MPA already and try to put their mind at ease that they have someone in their corner. I think that is the biggest factor. Take it one class at a time if you need to use your benefits towards your pursuit. Benefits get pretty complicated full time and requires eight or more credit hours each semester. That can be a little daunting at first, especially when you’re just coming into grad school. So really take the time and look at what your priorities are from at the beginning. Don’t overload yourself because overloading yourself you’re just going to get more stressed and more overwhelmed. Most of us have families.

Helen Budd [00:16:24]:

Many of them have families and other jobs. So leaping into eight credit hours right away can be daunting. So you have to measure what is most important to you. First of all, is it the money that you get from your housing allowance? You have to get that full housing allowance. Is that the biggest factor? Or is it getting into a program part time initially until you get used to the system and the curriculum and getting back to writing papers and then maybe building up to full time from there. So I think that’s definitely a big factor that I do ask some of my grad prospects to consider. What is your biggest priority? Is it that housing allowance payment or is it success in the program and maybe starting out gradually? Everyone comes from different backgrounds.

Christopher Lewis [00:17:21]:

Are there things that veterans or active duty service members tend to forget when it comes to and it may be just nuts and bolts things for benefits or other aspects that they should be asking coordinators like yourself at the campuses that they’re attending so that they are not leaving anything on the table.

Helen Budd [00:17:45]:

I can’t bring anything specific to mind other than knowing that it is perfectly fine to use the resources that are available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. Some of the folks I’ve had come in have retired after 20 years or more of service, may have got their bachelor’s degree already while they were in. And I think it’s just what I had mentioned before, just making sure that you know that you have the resources and support and that it’s okay to ask for help. That’s probably the biggest thing for all of my undergraduate and graduate students is the military culture. Very often they don’t like to ask for help. And that’s something that I think can be that can get in the way. I’ve seen it get in the way.

Helen Budd [00:18:36]:

Well, I’m embarrassed to ask for help with this. It’s such a trivial thing. No, it’s not. Nothing is trivial. There’s no silly question. We’re here to help. Absolutely.

Christopher Lewis [00:18:47]:

So talk to me about the role that you play, the role that other people in similar roles that you play and why it’s so important for anyone that is applying to grad school or to school in general that they should be reaching out to a coordinator like yourself. A director? Whatever type of resource that is on the campus for active duty and veterans.

Helen Budd [00:19:15]:

I want to clarify that we have several more people in our community, in our military connected community. We have active duty reservists members of the National Guard, and we have family members who are also a huge component. They’re the ones that hold the fort when they’re service members serving male, female, it doesn’t matter. Spouses, kids, they’re part of that military family. And that’s something that I always want everyone to remember, that they’re all important. They all serve one way or the other, whether it’s at home, holding the keeping the home fires burning or out in the field and drilling and doing their work overseas or at home. Everyone plays a part. So I do want to clarify it’s not just veterans active duty reserves.

Helen Budd [00:20:15]:

We have our family members and to our department, they are as important as our military member, direct military members. So I do want to make sure that everyone’s aware of that. The other thing is that they really need to approach our department as soon as possible. So that we can assist with benefit related questions. That’s usually the biggest thing that happens is how do I use my GI bill or my husband or wife transferred their benefit to me? How do I go about receiving those benefits? So we are myself and Michelle Smith in my department. We’re the two who handle those questions and can help the students get on the right track, whether they’re the veteran or service member or the dependent. There are different forms for each depending on the circumstances. So there are a lot of things that we need to work with them to make sure that they either apply for the correct benefit or use the benefit.

Helen Budd [00:21:29]:

So we have processes in place where they have to request to use the benefit before each semester. Otherwise, we do not certify them to VA until we have their request, and that is for their protection. We don’t just blindly see that they’re registered and then just certify them because they might not want to use the benefit for a specific semester. But really, until they come and talk to us, every case is different. Some cases are very similar. It just depends on the person. But we’re here to help, and we’re the only ones who actually submit that information to VA. So it is critical that they reach out to us so we can get that information to them and provide a smooth transition, as smooth as we possibly can make it for them.

Christopher Lewis [00:22:20]:

So, Helen, as you look at the work that you did in your own experience and the educational experience that you had personally, you look at the experience that you’re seeing other veterans or military connected individuals going through in their graduate experience. What are some tips that you might offer others? Anyone that is looking at graduate school that would help them to find success sooner?

Helen Budd [00:22:45]:

Do the research. Make sure that the university or college that you want to attend offers the majors that you’re looking for that takes some homework on your part. There are easy ways to do that. The VA has a comparison tool on their website that is phenomenal. It is really easy to use. You can compare different schools on there and see what is offered and what is available, who the certifying official is, and what the different housing rates are for different locations, because they do differ based on the zip code of where the school is located. What’s the difference if I go all online or partly on campus? Just make sure you do the homework and you find the right major and program for you. Also make sure that that program and major is approved for VA education benefits.

Helen Budd [00:23:47]:

As we go from year to year, we offer new programs, and I’m going to use one in particular, the Doctor of Business Administration. We had to request approval from VA in our new catalog before we could submit enrollment certifications for that program. So it’s really important before you enroll and register that you know that your program is approved for the use of benefits. That’s the biggest thing that I would recommend, and we can help with that. And my Certifying official is phenomenal. She does the catalog every year so it gets that prepared for approval and we stay on top of that because the VA won’t pay for what’s not approved. Also understand that you can’t just take free electives and expect the VA to pay for them. Know that whatever you take has to apply to you towards your degree.

Helen Budd [00:24:46]:

However interesting a course might sound, if it’s not required, VA is not going to pay for it. Another factor is if you have a 20% or higher service connected disability, check into the Veterans Readiness and Employment benefit. If you’ve not used any of previous benefits, you can potentially use that benefit and it won’t cut into, for instance, post 911 GI bill entitlement. So you could end up with at least 48 months of benefits if you play it right. So that’s where we also like to meet our students ahead of time. So we can ask some difficult questions sometimes, but it’s for the benefit of the student or prospective student so that we can guide you to the right benefit and program for you.

Christopher Lewis [00:25:41]:

Well, Helen, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for being here today, for sharing your own journey with us, and I wish you all the best.

Helen Budd [00:25:49]:

Thank you very much. Go blue.

Christopher Lewis [00:25:51]:

The University of Michigan Flint has a full array of master’s and doctorate programs. If you are interested in continuing your education, whether you’re looking for in person or online learning options, the University of Michigan Flint has programs that will meet your needs. For more information on any of our graduate programs, visit to find out more. Thanks again for spending time me as you prepare to be a victor in grad school. I look forward to speaking with you again soon as we embark together on your graduate school journey. If you have any questions or want to reach out, email me at [email protected].