Lifelong learning turns into a bachelor’s degree for this first-year Mason student


James “Jimmy” Stewart has always had a passion for learning.

During his 10 years serving in the U.S. Army, Stewart took classes at various colleges based on where he was stationed. His transcript boasts coursework from universities across Europe and the United States, though he never formalized a degree program. “I was initially focused on technology and law courses that were related to my role in the army—which was doing technology for the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG), the law firm for the Army,” he said. “But also took a few core courses, like history, just in case.”

Stewart left the military during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s. His experience allowed for a smooth transition to a civilian career in the technology sector, working his way up to senior-level positions at national nonprofits and law firms. “I knew that not having a degree would always be a challenge to get employment,” he said. “With my certifications and the number of years of experience, I was able to get into the sector. But it has been a limiter; I’ve had to look for positions that prioritize hands-on experience as opposed to degree experience.”

When his 11-year-old daughter started showing interest in college, Stewart saw an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of higher education by finally getting his bachelor’s degree.

  “I used to live across the street from Mason Square, and my wife is a Mason alum, so George Mason University was the logical first choice,”
he said. “I want her to see that if her dad can do it, she can do it, too, when it’s time.”

Stewart enrolled in the Individualized Study Program in the School of Integrative Studies in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), with a concentration in leadership and strategic communications. The Bachelor of Individualized Study (BIS) at Mason is designed for nontraditional students who are starting or returning to college after previous careers and life experiences. BIS took Stewart’s career and military experience, as well as his certifications and previous college courses, and converted them into credits that apply toward his degree; he started Mason this fall with 77 credits.

“I was always worried that getting the degree wouldn’t fit into my other responsibilities as a husband, a father, and employee,” he said. “But when I worked with my academic advisor to map out the degree, I thought, ‘Wow this is achievable!’ I only wish I had done it sooner.”

Stewart hopes to keep his daughter engaged by showing her his coursework, talking about his classes, and pointing out Mason wherever they go—like on the Metrobuses. “I want her to keep being excited with the idea of college, keep thinking of college as the next step,” he said. “I want to be a role model for her.”