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UND online: a welcome port in a storm

Navy civil engineer sailing toward career goals while building bridges along the way

Majellen "Coco" Changcoco
Since 2011, U.S. Navy Lt. Majellen “Coco” Changcoco has been working on her UND online civil engineering degree from different ports around the world. While doing so, she melded her work-life experiences with her educational pursuit. Image courtesy of Majellen Changcoco.

When she left the Philippines in 1997, Majellen “Coco” Changcoco knew she was leaving for a better life.

“When I was young, I thought of the U.S. as having opportunities to make something of myself,” she said. “I wanted to be independent. I wanted my own life.”

Twenty years later, Changcoco has accomplished that and more. Now, she’s closer than ever to achieving her ultimate dream, thanks to the flexibility of a UND online education.

Naval career

Changcoco had earned a degree in chemical engineering in her native Philippines, but she didn’t have the money to earn an official accreditation.

Not long after immigrating to the U.S., she found herself at a recruiting station, at the behest of her brother-in-law, who was in the U.S. Air Force. According to Changcoco, it seemed like the best way, at the time, to start her new life.

It also provided a way to rescue her educational dreams.

“I knew I didn’t want to rely on everyone else for pursuing my education,” Changcoco said. “I wanted to take care of myself and the military allowed me to pursue my studies.”

Navy Lt. Majellen Changcoco currently lives in Annapolis, Md., where she serves in the Civil Engineer Corps (CEC). As a production officer, she helps oversee maintenance and services for military bases — a job that’s taken her around the world.

Online flexibility

Majellen "Coco" Changcoco
Changcoco’s been on the UND campus three times, mostly to perform coursework in labs. Right now, she only has a couple essential studies courses left to complete her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UND. Image courtesy of Majellen Changcoco.

When she first joined the Navy, she worked in surveying, construction and materials logistics. She loved it. Her bosses were civil engineers, and she quickly developed a deep desire to one day build bridges — both literally and figuratively.

“Everybody has their own dream or goal in life,” Changcoco reflected. “I feel like I’m going to build a bridge to connect communities, uniting two distant villages or tribes. Once I realized that was my dream, I communicated that to my bosses.”

It wasn’t until 10 years later, when she discovered UND, that she found the ability to complete her goals.

UND’s online civil engineering degree is one of the few in the country that’s accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), an important factor in Changcoco’s goal of licensure.

“Without it, there’s no outlook for my career,” she said. “UND gave me that education I need to pursue my career. It played a crucial role.”

Also, with ABET accreditation on her bachelor’s degree, the required experience in civil engineering is cut in half to four years

Since 2011, Changcoco worked on her online bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from many different ports around the world. While doing so, she melded her work-life experiences with her educational pursuit.

“Constantly traveling means you juggle your situation,” she said. “Sometimes that means no internet access. I’ve downloaded lectures and other files ahead of time; I’ve also had a dropped connection during a test. I think no matter how you try to perfect the system, you always have challenges.”

Lasting loyalty

Through it all, Changcoco’s developed an affinity for UND’s quality of education. It’s now the benchmark by which she compares most institutions of higher learning.

“The program is unique,” she said. “The UND package required me to be on campus for a two-to-three-week period in the summer. When I [went] on-site to be there with classmates and professors, it felt right. The curriculum is really geared toward what is needed as an engineer and what you need for your license.

“UND always seems a notch higher than other universities.”

Changcoco’s been on campus three times doing work in labs. Right now, she only has a couple essential studies courses to finish off seven years of effort.

She said most people could probably finish the degree in five years or less, but … “I’m working in the field and taking studies, so mine took a long time.”

Now that she’s soon to complete her degree, and already passed the professional engineering exam this fall, she’s well on her way to building bridges.

Valuable advice

Changcoco has three bits of advice for anyone considering pursuing an online degree from UND: keep a good attitude, stay committed and on schedule, and contact professors whenever there are questions.

“Traditional classes have immediate access to professors, but you can make up for that by being proactive,” she said. “It’s all a matter of perspective. The personal drive can make up for (challenges with) nontraditional coursework.”