Kathy Council has worked in data and analytics for nearly 40 years.

These days, that’s an astonishing tenure for almost anyone in any kind of career, but it’s a particularly rare instance for a woman in computer science, a field where women are persistently underrepresented.

Council currently serves as vice president of the publications division at SAS, a North Carolina-based developer of analytics software. She has been with the multinational corporation almost since its inception. As a student working on a master’s in statistics at North Carolina State University in the early 1970s, she became acquainted with the Statistical Analysis System, a university-based project aimed at analyzing agricultural research.

Hired in 1977 (she was among the first 10 employees after the project was spun off as a for-profit company), Council went on to become SAS’s first female vice president. The company now has more than 14,000 employees and generated more than $3 billion in revenue in 2015.

A Perfect Match

When SAS recently publicized a scholarship that would allow a handful of employees to pursue a degree through Capella University’s FlexPath format, she took notice and applied. She didn’t get the scholarship award, but her research into FlexPath convinced her that the self-paced format fit her needs. Last year, she enrolled. “I’d always considered going back to school for an MBA, but most programs seemed too theoretical,” Council says. “Capella’s approach seemed different.”

Still, given that her most recent classroom experience was decades ago, Council was worried about what lay ahead. “I wondered, ‘What is an online classroom going to be like? Is there such a thing?’” she says. Council also worried about fitting in, given her age and experience.

But Council found the FlexPath experience to be just what she needed. “The program couldn’t be more perfect for me,” she says. “A lot of it is about writing papers—and I’m good at that. I like doing that—and if I get up in the middle of the night and want to work on an assignment, I can do it.”

Of course, there are days (and nights) when Council is swamped at work and doesn’t much feel like doing assignments after hours or on weekends. But prompts from Capella keep her on track and motivated, she says. “Mostly I just need to get started. Once I’m into it, I’m fine.”

Council was motivated to get her MBA to further her knowledge, even beyond the business acumen that she gained through her tenured career.  She says that “I’m learning way more about aspects of business that I was only slightly involved in. The things I’m learning are helping me with a higher level, bigger picture understanding. I’m benefiting greatly from all this new information.”

Employer Approved

SAS has been supportive of Council’s decision to enroll in FlexPath, and her supervisor has taken a keen interest in her progress—mostly because he’s also considering going back to school. The value of the education is readily apparent, she says. Almost daily, she finds ways to apply what she has learned in the classroom to her workplace environment. “In many ways, my education gives me insight into things that might be on the minds of other leaders, including the CEO.”

Without the incentive of the FlexPath format, which allows students to proceed at their own pace, Council says she probably wouldn’t have been motivated to go back for an MBA. The time investment otherwise seemed formidable, and going to school while also handling a job seemed like a challenge.

But Council says she’s glad she made the decision to enroll at Capella and would recommend it to other business leaders without hesitation. “It’s just so much fun!”

Learn more about FlexPath.