By DeVry University
Sometimes the path to success is a winding one. It may take unpredictable twists and turns and require you to reinvent yourself, but when you finally arrive at your desired destination, the journey to achieving your goals delivers a sense of accomplishment unlike any other. This is precisely the feeling Alek Pirkhalo experienced when he graduated from DeVry University’s Bachelor’s in Engineering Technology - Electronics degree program with honors after going back to college. “I was lazy,” Pirkhalo admits. “But higher education changed that for me.”
Today, he’s an experienced engineer and entrepreneur who successfully operates an IT business, Infiniwiz. How did he get there? Follow his journey to personal success and discover some key lessons—and motivation—to inspire your own.
A Slow Start
After moving to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, Pirkhalo found himself immersed in a culture full of expectations he wasn’t sure he could fulfill. At 18, he understood the silent expectation that he should attend college but wasn’t sure if it was the best fit for him or if he was ready to commit. So for the next two years, he worked in manufacturing and spent time with friends.
“For a year or two, we were pretty lazy,” Pirkhalo says of himself and his friends. But then after lounging about one day, something clicked: “We hadn’t done much for a couple years so me and my two friends decided to go to college together.”
They enrolled in classes, but their efforts didn’t last long. “One of my friends—who is now my business partner—left after a week. He said college was not for him. My second friend lasted a month or two. And then I lasted a semester or two,” he says. “So we all failed that round. We weren’t ready, basically, so then I went back to work.”
This time, he started an administrative job at a company where his father worked while working a second job as an AutoCAD drafting technician at a manufacturing facility. He enjoyed earning and saving money while living with his parents but as the days of double shifts continued, he started to re-evaluate his decision.
“Working like that for a year, I realized I couldn’t go on like this,” Pirkhalo says. “Plus most of the men I worked with didn’t mind being honest with me about how lazy I was. They told me I needed an education. That’s when—after some time—I decided going back to college was the right choice. I enrolled at DeVry and this time really took a different approach.”
Going Back to College After Dropping Out
When he enrolled in his bachelor’s degree program at DeVry, he still wasn’t entirely sure what would happen, but he knew that the first change he had to make—before even speaking to a professor or turning in his first assignment—started with his mindset.
Pirkhalo pursued his studies at DeVry with renewed purpose and one thought in mind: “I wanted to prove that I could do it myself—and I could do it well,” he says. “Higher education taught me how to be self-sustaining, how to find answers by myself, to learn by myself. It was time for me to figure things out.”
So he did. To start, he immediately structured his schedule so that all of his classes occurred in the first half of the day. He still worked part-time at the manufacturing facility, so he had to find a way to balance it all. “It was key for me to have my classes in the morning. In the evening, my brain doesn’t work the same way,” Pirkhalo says. He urges students to find a schedule that fits with their work style, energy levels and attention spans. For Pirkhalo, prime study time occurred in the mornings after a good night’s sleep when he felt most productive, but he stresses the importance of taking advantage of flexible learning options to create a schedule that best fits your life needs.
Building a Support Team with Professors and Friends
He also made some major changes to his peer group. Instead of spending time with friends who did not share his goals, he connected with DeVry classmates who helped him stay accountable. They completed assignments together, studied in the library and socialized when their schedules permitted. They fully committed themselves to their coursework and encouraged each other to have fun while working toward a common goal.
In addition to surrounding himself with driven classmates, he also built his support team with the help of DeVry professors who motivated him. He felt encouraged by one eccentric math professor who also shared an international perspective with him. “He was from Greece and was so happy when he found out I am from the Soviet Union. He was a good professor who was very knowledgeable, which felt exciting to be around,” Pirkhalo said.
“I also loved my physics class,” he added. “My professor had worked at Fermilab for many years. He understood what he taught and was passionate about sharing his knowledge with other students. He would handwrite summaries of book chapters, distribute copies to the class and discuss them in detail. He wanted to make sure every student understood the beauty of physics.”
Pirkhalo also felt motivated by what he learned about electricity and enjoyed the hands-on aspect of testing concepts from class in lab projects. “The lab was fun,” Pirkhalo says. “It was a great opportunity to just go in and connect some dials, see what lights up and what doesn’t.”
Graduating and New Beginnings
With enough self-determination and the right community at DeVry, Pirkhalo earned his bachelor’s degree ahead of his planned schedule.
After graduating, Pirkhalo understood that he was about to embark on a new chapter in life. At the time, he was still working at the same manufacturing facility but now as an engineer—a job he would keep for roughly a year after graduating before pursuing new opportunities that led to entrepreneurship.
“Of course the joy is overwhelming,” Pirkhalo says of graduating. “When I made the decision to go back to college for a second attempt and I graduated, my self-pride and self-perception completely changed because I had achieved something. I achieved an important milestone in my life. And I didn’t just pass it. I did it with honors. My perception and position in the world changed.”