For Viasat software engineer Jacob Nguyen, the pandemic presented the perfect opportunity for pursuing his master’s degree. The slower pace of life gave him time to focus on academics. But the key factor in his decision to enroll was believing Viasat would back him.
“I knew if I went for it, Viasat would probably financially support it,” he said. “That made it much easier. If I didn’t have that option, I probably wouldn’t be doing this.”
Nguyen was awarded Viasat’s 2021 Master’s Engineering Scholarship, which covers eligible fees up to $40,000, class time and other eligible upfront costs.
Nguyen, a Viasat engineer in Carlsbad, Calif., since 2016, applied for the annual engineering scholarship last year. He began studying for his master’s in wireless embedded systems from the University of California San Diego in September 2020, and expects to finish in 2022.
Currently, Nguyen is working on a redesign of the transceiver for the military’s blue-force tracking navigational system. And while that work is satisfying, Nguyen wanted to expand his capabilities.
“I like working on the design of systems, and I’d like to have more of an effect on that,” he said. “But I felt I was lacking in some technical areas. I think this program will help me have a clear understanding of working with more advanced communications systems.”
The scholarship has provided both emotional and financial rewards.
“It just feels nice, and it’s one less thing I have to worry about,” Nguyen said. “It makes it easier for me to focus on the program itself, and not other external factors.
“I feel appreciated by the company. It’s nice to know Viasat sees the work I’ve put in so far here.”
How it works
The scholarship program, designed by Chief Technology Officer and Viasat co-founder Steve Hart, is based on the same philosophy as Viasat’s educational reimbursement program. But while that program is available to all employees, the scholarship is specifically for engineers seeking graduate-level degrees.
Qualified applicants are currently enrolled in a master’s program and have completed at least one quarter or semester. Applications are reviewed by a selection committee.
Once an applicant is accepted to the program, Viasat coordinates directly with the universities to pay their tuition and fees.
“It’s very gold-level service for the engineers,” said Viasat Learning and Development Specialist Jordyn Case.
Students must maintain an A or B average to have their expenses covered, and must stay with the company for at least four years after earning their master’s.
“We’re looking for people who are very serious about not only pursuing higher education, but staying with us for a period of time after they receive their education,” Case said.
Increased career satisfaction
Systems engineer Paul Lupas is among those who have completed the program. An eight-year Viasat employee based in Duluth, Ga., he earned his master’s in applied systems engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2020.
Lupas initially worked as a systems integration engineer (SIE) at Viasat, a position he enjoyed that included international travel. But he, too, wanted to expand his skillset. When he learned about Viasat’s master’s degree scholarship, he decided to apply.
“It wasn’t just the financial opportunity, but they also give four hours a week to study as part of it,” he said. “That was very, very convenient. I would work extra hours during the week, and then I could take Fridays off to study. That kept my sanity level pretty high.”
That was especially important because Lupas also was getting married and starting a family, so time was precious.
Almost a year later, he said his career satisfaction is much higher.
“Right after finishing my master’s, I looked online at Viasat internal careers,” he said. “Now I’m acting as a project engineer lead for the antenna systems design. It’s more interesting and rewarding than my previous position. Just working as an SIE, I had a narrow view of how things are organized.
“I’m more proactive and look for opportunities now that I have the master’s. Before, I wouldn’t have known or cared they existed. Now, I want to understand more and be better equipped to help Viasat succeed in these programs.”
Like Nguyen, Lupas said the scholarship made him feel valued as an employee.
“It made me see that the company really cares about my education and improving it, and that we’re here to help you succeed and meet your goals – not just financially but also by giving you the time to do it,” he said.