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Accomplished financial adviser Cynthia Hewitt thought UD’s MALS
program would give her something to do in retirement,
but it propelled her back into the workforce.
completing a 42-year career as a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch
that included multiple accolades from Barron’s and other reputable
publications and organizations, it would have been completely
understandable for Cynthia Hewitt to kick back, relax and engage in the various leisure activities she enjoys, including golf, boating and traveling.
However, as Hewitt was preparing for her spring 2018 retirement, she
had a greater concern than lowering her handicap and planning her next
trip to the beaches of Anguilla.
“I kept thinking what in the world am I going to do with my time,” said Hewitt.
She heard about the University of Delaware’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)
program from several people, including an enrolled student, and was
intrigued by the possibility of pursuing the part-time degree designed
for adults and centered in the humanities and social sciences. As an
added bonus, the longtime Wilmington-area resident was pleased to find
out about UD’s Over-60 Tuition-Free Degree
program, which allows Delaware citizens age 60 and older the
opportunity to receive undergraduate or graduate tuition on a
space-available basis provided they are admitted to the University.
“I always liked school and I thought this would be an opportunity to
100% learn for learning's sake, not for anything specific, just for the
joy of learning,” said Hewitt.
UD’s director of Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Tara Kee, was
pleased to hear about Hewitt’s interest in the program and admired her
desire to take on the challenge.
“We were very impressed by Cynthia’s career and how she was looking
to gracefully transition from a really demanding, high-powered job into
retirement,” said Kee. “A lot of people see retirement as a time to hang
up their hat and take it easy for a while, but she wanted to continue
to grow, learn and develop herself.”
While Hewitt’s story may seem atypical for a university student, it
made her a perfect candidate for the MALS degree, which many
mid-to-late-career professionals pursue for the joy of learning.
“I always describe our ideal MALS student as ‘interested and
interesting,’ ’’ said Kee. “Cynthia fits the profile perfectly — curious
about the world and our human society, eager to learn, but also full of
information gleaned from a storehouse of personal and professional life
experiences. Many of our students use the program to look for that next
passion they are going to explore in retirement.”
Hewitt was accepted and in the fall of 2017 found herself sitting in a
classroom on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus for the first
session of Introduction to Graduate Liberal Studies, a seminar that
provides a review of graduate-level academic writing and research as
well as the nature of interdisciplinary study. Although she had taken
some job-related courses over the years at Harvard University,
University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago and UD, she had not
pursued a degree since earning a bachelor’s in English literature from
Vanderbilt University in 1973.
“I am glad I took the intro course since I was sort of rusty with
writing papers, doing research and participating in class,” said Hewitt.
“It was kind of like learning how to be a student again.”
Hewitt made it through Introduction to Graduate Liberal Studies and
has completed five more courses, leaving her two classes and a thesis
shy of her master’s degree. She has enjoyed the camaraderie among the
students and the knowledge of the professors, and has recruited some
friends who are now her classmates.
“I have had a really positive experience at the University of
Delaware, and the course offerings have been great,” said Hewitt. “I
have learned a lot in each class that I never would have learned if I
had not taken the course. The MALS program provides a wonderful
opportunity that I tell lots and lots of people about.”
Little did she know that one of her courses, “How to Read an
Election,” would derail her retirement plans. Though the class focuses
on elections, much of the emphasis is on how people make important
decisions of any kind and respond to biases of confidence. When it was
time to discuss the section of Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow,
about the stock market, Hewitt was invited to serve as a guest lecturer
and share her firsthand knowledge and insights on investing. The
experience prompted her to think about a return to the workforce, which
she made in January as a senior partner and managing director with
Snowden Lane Partners, an independent wealth advisory firm.
“The MALS program convinced me that I wasn’t ready to leave the
financial business,” said Hewitt. “It was exciting to talk to the class
and see how they appreciated what I had to say.”
Although Hewitt initially enrolled at UD to “learn for learning's
sake,” she now sees herself applying some of the lessons to her new
position. Along with her sharpened writing skills, the psychological
analysis of decision making resonated with her.
“While I knew a little bit about behavioral investing, I definitely
learned more,” said Hewitt. “Studying how people make decisions and the
various biases they have is something I can use.”
Hewitt gives much of the credit for her improved writing to the University’s Writing Center,
which offers free assistance to all UD students. She has found it very
helpful to have another set of eyes review her work and provide a second
opinion and advice. In addition to taking advantage of the Writing
Center, Hewitt encourages students to get a jump on their courses, by
ordering the books ahead of time and beginning the readings in advance,
and not to be shy about participating in class. Because the MALS program
has plenty of people who have spent many years working, numerous
experiences are shared in the class discussions.
The program also attracts students who need to earn master’s degrees
for their jobs and are drawn to the opportunity of not having to focus
on one specific discipline. The current roster includes a mix of retired
and employed psychiatrists, lawyers, teachers and engineers, as well as
people from a variety of other occupations.
“One of the joys of the MALS program is that it is very flexible,”
said Kee. “We have very few required courses and beyond those students
really get to choose what they want to take.”
Three years after being concerned about what she would do with her
time, Hewitt is now balancing the demands of a new job and her
schoolwork. While she admits there is going to be an adjustment period,
Kee is confident that she will continue to excel as a both a student and
“I am not worried at all because the MALS program is set up for people to do it part time, and the Graduate College
has been very understanding of our students’ needs,” said Kee. “With
returning adult students, things happen; they have responsibilities with
their kids, parents and jobs, so we have been able to be flexible.”
Article by Adam S. Kamras; photo courtesy of Karen Gowen; illustration by Cindy Dolan
Published March 8, 2021
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