In 2016, Eric Zawada had been working at Berklee Online as an Academic Advisor for about six months when he decided to enroll in a 12-week course at his place of employment. He figured having first-hand experience with the learning environment would be helpful for advising students who were going through the same thing. What started as one course soon turned into a General Music Studies four-course certificate program, and after he reached that milestone he investigated how many of his previous college credits would transfer into a degree program.
“I found out that I was able to transfer in the full 60,” he says. “And at that point I had taken enough courses that it meant I had about 72 out of the necessary 120 credits to graduate. I was like, ‘I’m already more than halfway there, I can do this!’”
One of the perks of working at Berklee Online is that employees can utilize tuition assistance for courses. They can even pursue a bachelor’s degree, though very few have the patience and perseverance that it takes to do so. Even when money is no object, time still is! Roughly seven years after taking his first course, Zawada became just one of only a handful of Berklee Online employees to graduate from the institution that employs him. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Music Studies.
“Having that moment onstage was great,” says Zawada about the Commencement ceremony earlier this month, “and being able to be psyched about the accomplishment. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife, Courtney, my friends, family, and bandmates.”
That doesn’t mean that his journey was easy. Working full-time and taking six credits at a time is one thing, but when there’s a new baby in the house, that’s something else altogether. In May of 2019, Zawada and his wife Courtney welcomed their first child.
“I found out pretty quickly that it was too much,” he says about the year after his daughter was born. “I took a solid year off from taking classes, which I think was necessary in terms of learning how to juggle family responsibilities and work. So I waited for my daughter to get older and gain some independence, and in the meantime there was zero pressure from Berklee to finish the degree, and no fear that I’d lose my spot, which was really nice. I could wait until I felt like I was in a place in life where I could resume concentrating and effectively knock the courses out.”
Zawada says that taking the same courses as the students he advised was beneficial to his relationships with them. Occasionally the students he advised would also be his classmates.
“One of my students, Jason Harris, who just graduated as well, and is now pursuing his master’s degree, was in the Songwriting for Film and TV class with me, and we actually worked on an assignment together in that class, which was really cool,” says Zawada. “So that certainly added a level of additional bonding to that relationship, having actually worked on a song together and made it that much cooler to meet him in person at Commencement.”
In addition to helping him better advise his students, his Berklee Online courses have come in handy for helping him promote his band, the Blue Moves.
“For one of my final projects I promoted a concert for my band, and had a film crew come out, and now we have that to send to people for booking,” he says. “I don’t think I’d have done that had I not taken courses that got me to think about how to promote the band in that way.”
So what’s next for Eric Zawada now that he holds a bachelor’s degree from Berklee Online? He’ll continue to play with the Blue Moves and advise at Berklee Online. He says that watching what other students do with their degrees has been a source of inspiration for him.
“Taking classes and working with other students ended up showing me what I’m passionate about,” he says. “Just seeing how some of them go into composing for film, or start their own school. Even though I can’t ever see quitting my day job, what I’m most passionate about is playing in a band. Now that the degree is over, I’m going to use the time where I used to study as time to write, record, or perform.”