In order to build something lasting, you first need a solid foundation.

As the president of a geotechnical exploration company, Michael Cox knows the truth of that old adage. The Charleston, South Carolina-based firm he founded in 2014 provides ground and soil testing for residential, commercial and infrastructure projects prior to construction.

“I really just love playing in the dirt on cold, windy, rainy days!” he said.

Cox also knows the importance of a firm footing in other aspects of life. Back in 2008, Cox had an associate’s degree in civil engineering technology and a job he liked with an engineering firm. Still, he knew he wanted to achieve more and to reach higher.

Six years later, Cox has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems and a Master of Science in Information Technology/Cybersecurity from Florida Institute of Technology. He completed both his undergraduate and graduate degree programs 100% online.

“I wholeheartedly feel I would not be running my own business right now … without the curriculum and online experience from Florida Tech,” said Cox, who will receive his graduate diploma in December during commencement ceremonies on the Melbourne, Florida, campus.

“It prepared me for the current market and showed me that I can accomplish what seems insurmountable,” he said.

We asked Cox to share his success story with us.

By Michael Cox

My collegiate journey began a couple of decades ago when I started at and graduated from Trident Technical College in Charleston with an associate’s degree in civil engineering technology. I was immediately employed after graduating.

I worked in varying capacities until I ultimately found a perfect fit for me. I found a job that allowed me to “play in the dirt” with high-tech electronics and big trucks! What kid would not like that, right?

I travelled often with the position and enjoyed seeing much of the United States and the rarely appreciated infrastructure that it takes to keep a modern society moving. My job was to perform geotechnical explorations for a Top 100 engineering firm.

While working with S&ME Inc., I completed exploration programs at nuclear energy sites, hydroelectric dams, computer server farms for major Internet search providers, airport runways, myriad new neighborhoods, million-gallon drinking water tanks, and elegant swimming pools at historic homes.

I enjoyed my position, the pay was fair, yet I wanted more out of life. I knew that I needed an advanced degree to make it all happen. So, in the early summer of 2008, I sent an online inquiry to Florida Tech about its online programs. Within moments a representative called to answer my questions and before the end of that call I was enrolled in college once again.

This was not my first attempt to return to college, however. A few years prior, I attempted to return by enrolling at Trident Tech once again. This time my curriculum would transfer me to a four-year school so I could get my engineering degree, but it was not meant to be. I travelled a bit less but still had a job to do. After more than a decade out of a classroom, I had forgotten most of the calculus and physics from my prior degree.

Fast-forward two years when I received my first set of books for my first classes at Florida Tech. I was still very concerned about the education I would receive online and how well I would perform. I had taken a number of continuing education classes online but this was different. I remember the moment very well. I took the books upstairs to my desk and set them down. I took them out of the shipping box and stared at them for three days. I knew once I took the shrink-wrap off each book that I owned them, and I would be committed to the course.

With sweat pouring from my brow, I took the thin plastic off the book and trusted my gut.

During my first term at Florida Tech I took the required “getting-started” course that taught me how to organize my schedule, prioritize my time and where the “extra time” in the day would come from. Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy were history. The time commitment meant I would no longer have weekends to go hunting and fishing. I still use principles from that 1-credit hour course to this day.

‘Self-Will and an Internet Connection’ 

My Art Appreciation professor, Dr. Mary Carter, made an impression on me that I share often with others. She shared her own learning experience while studying Japanese ink in Japan. She made 50-plus attempts to complete her first project before her professor would even accept the work. I found her tenacity inspiring. Professor Carter set the pace for the rest of my Florida Tech experience.

Dr. Carter did not let you ride through the course and then give you a grade. You had to earn each grade by being creative and exposing yourself to art mindfully. As with all the online classes I took at FIT, she required me to participate weekly. Thankfully she read all that you had to say or write or submit.

My first week back I was still not in full collegiate mindset, schedule or tempo. I did a shoddy job on my first assignment, and Dr. Carter let me know. Yet she encouraged me to put more effort into my next assignment, knowing I could do better. So the next week I did put forth much greater effort, and from that point until graduation I dedicated greater weekly effort, reading hundreds more pages per week, researching five to 20 academic papers and writing several four- to 10-page papers each week.

In all the classes I took in my six years at Florida Tech, Dr. Carter's was my favorite. I found that the knowledge I gained from that introductory class would be fundamental to all the rest of the classes to come and for many situations in real life. Dr. Carter helped me to embrace a subject I knew very little about.

Leaving a 13-year, secure, senior position to start a business required a steady line of planning. An engineer uses a line to transfer the weight of, say, the second floor of a building to the first, and then again to the foundation. As well, students must follow a line of coursework in order to graduate. Art Appreciation allowed me to paint the lessons from each subsequent class into a mosaic of knowledge, allowing me to navigate the more grueling rigors of business ownership after graduation.

The experience I endured by completing my Bachelor of Science and Master of Science at Florida Tech online reinforced that to be successful all one needs to possess is a great deal of self-will and a solid Internet connection. I found that after completing my first two courses I established a routine to complete each week’s assignments. I had to eat and be studying by 7 p.m. each night, which included weekends as well.

Driving heavy equipment down the road is not a conducive place to study. Hotel rooms outside major cities do not have good Internet connections. I deliberately kept a copy of my course syllabus on hand at all times.

All the professors who taught my classes understood that most of my classmates held full-time jobs plus had families plus had other commitments in life. Still, my FIT professors expected quality work turned in on time. I had back surgery for a debilitating, major rupture between two vertebrae that put me out of work for six months. I reached out prior to surgery to inform one professor that I may get behind due to this unforeseen medical procedure. He gave me an extra week, which translates into two weeks of work in the online arena. Expectations are always high.

Fortunately, I did not need the time. In the preceding two weeks I worked ahead to prepare for my recovery. This helped me because class time online travels at warp speed compared to a traditional classroom. As on online student, you cannot get behind; you must keep up with the work. This culture plays well with real life, too.

‘Forward Progress Will Lead to Success’ 

While starting my business, PalmettoINSITU, I had to research banks, leasing companies, insurance companies, state, federal and local regulations, and tax requirements, find rental space for equipment and storage, negotiate with vendors and find clients, all while completing my master’s at Florida Tech. Staying organized, and being able to cut to the chase and find concise, relevant information are among the many tools I gained from the curriculum. Always looking ahead is another skill acquired via FIT.

My business remains in the geotechnical exploration sector. I still love working in the dirt on cold, windy, rainy days! My education in IT/Cybersecurity, I feel, prepared me to evaluate software and service providers to keep my client’s information and data that I collect digitally as safe and secure as possible, along with running an ambitious business.

I used my education from Florida Tech to choose remarkable branding and marketing doyens who guided me in the creation of a seamless website and a business stationery suite that keeps my company brand consistent, no matter the medium of communication.

And that Art Appreciation class allowed me to evaluate their work to produce a logo that abstractly communicates precisely what my company does for clients. A geologist I recently encountered knew exactly what we did by looking at our logo.

My diverse education has paid diverse dividends. The rigor of Florida Tech allowed me to create a 132-page business plan to get the business off the ground. I was able to communicate with my bankers using language they understood to secure our fiscal needs. My education also allowed me to discuss with my accountant the uniqueness of my business and how to set it up properly.

The same education also told me to hire someone much more fluent in QuickBooks than I, so I do not create a tax nightmare.

I wholeheartedly feel I would not be running my own business right now, weeks after graduation, without the curriculum and online experience from Florida Tech. The coursework truly prepared me for the current market and showed me that I can accomplish what seems insurmountable.

If you keep moving and put one foot in front of the other, every day, forward progress will lead to success and, if not success, then a lesson nonetheless.

In concluding my recount of the journey with Florida Tech to obtain both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I would recommend to others that they find their place in life that makes them the most comfortable and offers the most personal reward, for it will be there that you will find the most success.

Furthermore, for the naysayers, one will get out of the online curriculum what one puts into it, and you can use it in the very same way as someone who took the same class in a brick-and-mortar classroom. The only difference is that you may have completed your assignment at 2 a.m. after working 12 hours and traveling 225 miles down I-95 (which shows incredible self-motivation, something very few people possess). 

Good luck to all the students who follow. Work hard and, with all honesty, follow your dreams!

Are you a graduate of Florida Tech’s 100% online degree programs? We would love to share your success story in our Student Spotlight series. Contact us at StudentSpotlight@universityalliance.com for additional details.

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