Alumni Special: Paul Jarnagin

Paul JarnaginHow does a gamer and camera repairman become the Director of Information Technology at the College of Continuing Studies at The University of Alabama?

Paul Jarnagin's story is an inspirational tale that begins in Colorado, where he had moved to work on a bachelor's degree that never panned out. It’s fitting that the University's online degree programs were part of his path to success, since technology and online connections have played pivotal roles in his life time and again.

“I met a woman online through ICQ, it was called. It’s antiquated now, but back in the mid-'90s, it was cutting edge,” Paul shared. Things were getting pretty serious in his online relationship, so his then-girlfriend moved to Colorado and they got married. When she started getting homesick for the South, they threw a dart on the map and landed in the big small town of Tuscaloosa, where he initially found a job as a camera repairman. It wasn’t too long before the shop “shuttered,” and Paul eventually found his way to employment at The University of Alabama as a lower-level IT technician in an off-campus center.

“My boss told me one day, ‘You're not going to last,’ and I was taken aback, kind of offended actually, so I asked him to explain, and he told me, ‘If you’re worth your weight, they’ll snatch you up on main campus.’” That’s exactly what happened; Paul moved to a more advanced IT role in the College of Arts and Sciences. He soon realized his career might have reached its peak because, as he explained, "My associate degree may have gotten me in the door, but it wasn’t enough to offer any upward mobility."

So he began taking classes through the University’s New College LifeTrack program as an avenue toward a bachelor’s degree. “I absolutely loved it,” he said.

Paul Jarnagin with his wifeThis story of triumph is not without tragedy. In 2010, Paul’s wife of ten years passed away. He decided to take a step back from his coursework to grieve and heal.

In the retelling of his story, Paul quickly hurried to the next plot point, eager to get to the happy new beginning that was just around the corner. He recalled, “I remember being a technician, and someone from Early College called and asked me to serve as an on-call technician for Saturday student labs.” He paused for a brief moment before letting me in on the memory behind his smile. “And that’s where I met Alyson,” he said, “the love of my life — she absolutely just floored me.”

What started out as Facebook stalking each other in the same computer lab while they were working Saturdays for Early College turned into an enduring romance with a profound impact on his educational path. “Alyson has been instrumental in my education. That’s her passion — helping students get readjusted and acclimated to college, so I leaned on her a lot, and by 2011, I had started the Bachelor of Science in General Studies online, and in 2012 we got married.”

He took one to two classes at a time — 100% online through Bama By Distance — to finish his bachelor’s degree. The Jarnagins added a son and daughter to the mix in 2013 and 2014, so Paul completed his bachelor’s degree in 2017 with two very young children there to celebrate Daddy’s magna cum laude academic honors.

Paul Jarnagin at the president's mansionWhile Paul was completing his bachelor’s, Alyson had begun a PhD, so their family was incredibly busy as they both pursued academic dreams. Paul cited the convenience of online coursework as critical to his success and ability to balance life and education.

“I’m doing two classes, juggling parenthood, two small kids, she’s heavy into PhD studies, and then we just moved — so there was so much going on in our life. And just to be able to pick a time during the day to work on my schoolwork when it was convenient for me was so reassuring. There was no rigid schedule of being in class for a certain set time. It was us making our time frames, and that’s what’s so beneficial,” he said.

After he finished his bachelor’s degree, Paul was promoted to an IT role at the University Medical Center and began working toward his master’s in Consumer Quality Management, also 100% online. He recalls that his supervisors saw his skills advancing as he continued through the coursework of both degree programs, and he landed his current role as Director of Information Technology at the College of Continuing Studies in 2018 while he continued his master’s coursework.

Paul Jarnagin with his childrenPaul named Dr. Juanita McMath and Dr. John Dew as having significant positive influence over his experience in the program. He lauded the faculty and the design of the CQM coursework, saying that the concepts gave him confidence and allowed him to speak with more authority at the leadership table. “There was so much synergy between the coursework I was doing and the work I was performing in this role,” Paul explained. He added, “I saw the curriculum like it was 50% theory and 50% practical, which was very beneficial for me because it allowed me to apply what I was learning in my job, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.”

And now that he’s finished, he can get back to mastering Apex and learning from his son how to play games on their Nintendo Wii.

To learn more about the master’s in Consumer Quality Management, visit the program website.