Forming Friendships Between Full-Time and Part-Time Students

Two Northwestern MSIT alumni — one who was a full-time student and one who was a part-time student — recount how they benefited from taking classes together and what they learned from working with one another.

Northwestern's Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program offers full-time and part-time course scheduling opportunities for its students, a practice that is not uncommon among graduate programs, yet is intentionally done in the MSIT program. The fact that part-time MSIT students take their classes on Saturdays alongside their full-time counterparts creates unique opportunities to learn about technology from multi-cultural perspectives.

This intentional merging of part-time and full-time program options allows those students who would not otherwise interact, to ultimately connect and learn from one another. And often, close friendships develop.

That is just what happened with Jonathan Diehl and Xuening Han.

Han (MSIT '17) traveled from China to Northwestern to build on her interest in machine learning. It was in her first quarter in MSIT that she met Diehl (MSIT '18), who was enrolled in the MSIT part-time program while he worked as a learning specialist at Northwestern. Diehl continues to work at Northwestern today while Han works in Seattle as a data scientist at Amazon. And, all the while, the friendship they built in MSIT remains.

The two recently took time to talk about their MSIT experiences, their friendship and the benefit of having part-time and full-time students take classes together.

How did your friendship develop?

Jonathan Diehl: Xuening and I were in the same study group during the first quarter of the program. Xuening was a full-time student and Chinzo (another student in the group, originally from Mongolia) and I were both part-time students. That first quarter is a shock in some ways. You have to get back into the groove of being a student, you're working in groups with people you don't know, and the course work is academically challenging. This shared experience binds you together with your study group mates.

We would often meet up on weeknights for late night study sessions. At first, there was some discord as we were learning how each person liked to work. Because we each were from different countries and cultures, there was a little bit of cultural miscommunication. Sometimes we were too passive and sometimes too aggressive when trying to convince our group mates about the solutions to class assignments.

As we started to get to know each other, tensions in the group dissipated and we started to become friends. I invited Chinzo and Xuening over to my apartment for dinner several times to get to know each other better. Between that and our weekly shared lunch on Saturday class days, we really started to form strong friendships. 

Xuening Han: Sometimes we met at Jonathan's home to discuss our homework. He always cooked nice food, which made our discussion very enjoyable. Through those discussions and homework, not only did we get lots of A's on our course work, but also we got to know each other very well.

When I finished my MSIT journey and headed to Seattle to work at Amazon, Jonathan introduced me to his friend Katherine — who also lives and works in Seattle — and we really get along! Jonathan has helped me a lot to understand U.S. culture. He is really a very kind person.

In what ways were full-time and part-time MSIT students able to interact during classes and outside of the classroom?

JD: We had lunch together every Saturday class day, and we would occasionally go out as a study group, either to one of our homes or to a restaurant.

What benefits do you think there are to having FT and PT students in the same classes?

JD: Since most of the full-time students are from outside of the United States, there is a lot of cultural exchange that happens. I think this is very reflective of the diversity of companies that students work in during and after graduating from the MSIT program.

XH: Most full-time students come from outside of the U.S. One thing I really enjoyed with having full-time and part-time students in the same classes is we got to learn more about U.S. culture, which is really great, whether you want to stay in this country after the program or not.

What lessons do you think you were able to learn from any of your FT classmates that you may not have gained from your PT classmates?

JD: The full-time students are driven to succeed in ways that were somewhat different than those expressed by part-time students. By that, I mean that many of the part-time students already had jobs and were further on in their careers. Many of the full-time students were not as far in their careers and this provided different and welcome energy to the group. 

XH: I feel my part-time classmates were often more mature than my full-time classmates. I really enjoyed getting different perspectives from them on work and life.

How would you describe your overall experience in the MSIT program?

JD: Overall, the MSIT program was great. I learned so much from the professors and truly have made lasting connections with some of the students. 

XH: Since the program covers a lot of areas of IT, it is not difficult to find one that you're truly interested in. Because full-time MSIT students take half of their courses during the week and a half on Saturdays, you get more time to meet a diversity of people, make friends-- and have fun!

What were two or three of the most important things you learned or discovered during your time in the MSIT program?

JD: I learned that the field of IT is broad and in need of people who can translate between the various parts. Also, the creators of the fundamental technologies that we take for granted today were truly brilliant!

XH: The first thing I learned is to never fear to make friends with classmates. I made some good friends in the MSIT program — and they are still my friends now that I have graduated. The second thing I learned was to never set limits for yourself, both for work and life. I found my interest in machine learning back then, did research with a relevant Northwestern professor, and I am now happily engaged in this fast-moving industry.