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Graduate student sets his own pace in pursuit of dual master’s degrees

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Jacob LeBlanc lives in double-time.

At age 19, he shaved a year from a four-year program to complete a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. But that’s not where LeBlanc’s fast track began or where it ends.

First, he skipped kindergarten. He took high school courses as a middle-school student, and a schedule of seven classes a year enabled him to complete high school as a junior. He then enrolled at UL Lafayette. He was 16, too young to vote and barely old enough to drive.

Now 21, he’s completed two master’s degrees in the time most graduate students finish one.

LeBlanc will receive the first, in systems technology, during Friday’s Commencement at the Cajundome. He also will be recognized as the overall Outstanding Master’s Graduate during the ceremony. LeBlanc’s second degree, an MBA, will be awarded in August during Summer Commencement.

A master’s in systems technology requires at least 30 credit hours; an MBA requires 33. Like most master’s programs, both take two years – usually.

Systems technology graduate students can choose to take three, three-credit hour business electives. That made LeBlanc think: those nine hours, plus an additional eight classes – 24 more hours – would enable him to complete an MBA as well.

“I figured, if I am taking these three, I might as well just finish the rest,” he said.

Graduate students are considered full-time if they pursue nine credit hours a semester. LeBlanc took 12. And, with the nine hours of business electives counting toward both degrees, he eliminated a full semester of MBA coursework.

Technology also sped his pursuit of dual degrees. He took most of his MBA courses, and all of his systems technology classes, online through the Office of Distance Learning.

It’s not unusual for graduate students to pursue multiple degrees, said Dr. Mary Farmer-Kaiser, dean of UL Lafayette’s Graduate School. But doing so as quickly as LeBlanc did required him “to have his ducks in a row,” she said.

“That meant good advising and good planning. First, the course offerings had to align, but all of it worked because Jacob went in knowing what he wanted to accomplish, took care to map it all out, and communicated well with both programs throughout the process.”

Though one program is in the College of Engineering and the other in the B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration, LeBlanc said the curriculums were complementary.

“I typically took two MBA and two systems technology courses a semester. Sometimes, it was a shift, but then I found that some topics in one program applied to the other,” he said.

For example, he used data analysis techniques he learned in his MBA curriculum to make charts and graphs to illustrate his systems technology master’s thesis. The 234-page study examined microbial fuel cells, a potential sustainable energy source.

Microbial fuel cells are chambers that can be filled with wastewater. Microorganisms that feed on natural material or contaminants are then added. Once inside, the microbes begin to eat, cleaning the water while also generating power though the chemical reactions that result.

The fuel cells are fitted with electrodes; these conductors harness the power produced by microorganisms as they dine. The chemical reactions that occur when the microbes break down the organic matter run the cells without an outside power source.

LeBlanc said employing this technology on a large scale could turn municipal wastewater treatment facilities into their own battery packs.

“It’s very promising because a lot of the wastewater treatment methods require so much energy, and it’s cost intensive. But this method actually produces energy in some situations. You can configure it to yield other bioproducts as well,” such as biofuels or potable water.

Rigorous thesis research required LeBlanc to carve out lab and writing time in an already-packed calendar.

In addition to completing two graduate degrees – and maintaining a 4.0 GPA in both – he taught electronics and carpentry courses as an adjunct instructor at South Louisiana Community College and was a graduate assistant at UL Lafayette.

He worked as a carpenter’s assistant and regularly played accordion with a group of Cajun musicians who call themselves “Jacob LeBlanc and Friends.”

“I don’t play with enemies,” the Scott, Louisiana, native said with a grin.

But the hectic pace is nothing new, LeBlanc said, and it’s not likely to change. He’s applied for a number of jobs and is also considering pursuing a doctoral degree so he can teach at the university level.

In the meantime, he’ll travel to Canada in August as the bass guitarist for Les Jeunes Cadiens, or The Young Cajuns. The band of local musicians formed especially for the 2019 Congrès Mondial Acadien, a festival of Acadian and Cajun culture and history.

The international gig means he’ll miss his MBA graduation, but that’s alright, he said. “I’ve been to enough graduations.”


Photo caption: Graduate student Jacob LeBlanc works in an analytics laboratory in Madison Hall on UL Lafayette’s campus. (Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

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