The pursuit of a decade-long dream

“I always wanted to go back to college,” recalls Alex Levi, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield vice president of Customer Care.  Alex has seen his share of success, working for several years in the telecommunications industry before joining Excellus BCBS in 2019 as director of customer care where he was quickly promoted to vice president of the department.  Still, that desire to go back to school and complete his degree was always there. “A lot of the reason is that it is an important part of the values instilled in me from my family. They believed significantly in education. Everyone has advanced education.  My life went in a different direction, and I entered the work force,” explains Alex.

A push in the right direction

Throughout the years, he made a few attempts to start classes again at a local community college with little success. “I was never able to match the time that I needed to focus on school, family and career. It just wasn’t realistic,” he shares. That changed as he settled into to his role at Excellus BCBS.  “One of the things at the company that is amazing is the way the employee development program is pushed,” notes Alex.  It was that push that made all the difference.  As he met with his leader to outline his employee development plan (EDP) for 2021, she mentioned that he had a significant opportunity to grow within the organization and a college degree would be an important part of his career trajectory. 

Alex after graduating with honors from Roberts Wesleyan University.

Silencing the negative noise

“I was very fortunate to have leaders that saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” says Alex.  “Sometimes I would be sitting in rooms with people who had advanced degrees and it would lead to a type of imposter syndrome, wondering ‘do I belong here?’ I always wanted to reduce that negative noise.” As luck would have it, Alex had dinner with a friend who happened to be a recruiter for Roberts Wesleyan University.  She explained that the university had an adult education program that allowed students to accelerate their degree with work experience credits.

With the ability to earn credits for his work experience, coupled with Excellus BCBS’s robust tuition assistance program, Alex made the decision to enroll and was one step closer to realizing his dream. “I was encouraged to go back to school, not only with words, but with support,” he explains. Alex was able to complete his bachelor’s degree in business management in two years with no out- of- pocket costs for his tuition. 

An easy-to-use benefit

One unique aspect of Excellus BCBS’s tuition assistance benefit is that the employee is not required to pay the tuition upfront.  In many other organizations, tuition is paid by the employee and then reimbursed by the employer once the course is completed.  Paying upfront can be challenging for some students. “The company’s tuition assistance program levels the playing field, allowing anyone to go back to school and get tuition assistance,” says Alex.  In 2022, the tuition assistance benefit was enhanced even further by moving from a paper system to an electronic system. Alex adds, “it is really simple to use the benefit and there was a clear process for help and support”.

Support is vital

Support was a common thread guiding Alex through his journey toward a degree. “It was really the company’s culture that values work life balance that allowed me to have the time to move away from work and think about school,” explains Alex.  He credits Excellus BCBS’s culture for much of his success in achieving his degree. “The organization didn’t instill my desire to go back to school, but it enabled me to find balance in my life coupled with a focus on development.  I would not have done it if I was not working here, there is no doubt.”

His support system extended to his work team and family as well. “Make sure the people in your life that you count on are all in the game to support you and understand what you are getting into so they can help carry some of the load,” advises Alex. For him, this meant letting his wife and daughter know how much time he would need to dedicate to school and sharing his educational goals with his work-team. 

After earning his degree, Alex emailed a message to his work-team that included this statement – “This company supported me in achieving a goal that is rooted deeply in my values and desires.  I need to take a moment to say thank you to all of you! The support, encouragement, and backup I received from so many people in our organization was vital to my ability to serve this company and my family, all while attending school as a full-time student”.

Creative ways to find time

Finding the time to pursue higher education while working full time is challenging for most people. There is no simple answer, but for Alex learning to multi-task effectively helped. He would find creative ways to complete assignments such as listening to a book on tape while driving. All his effort resulted not only in a college degree, but in a new network of business experts and knowledge that he was able to apply directly to his work.  “It is never the right time, it is always going to be a big change,” shares Alex. “With Excellus BCBS’s emphasis on work life balance and caring about our wellbeing, there is no better time to take that next step.”

To learn more about tuition assistance and other programs offered to Excellus BCBS employees, visit the Excellus BCBS careers site.

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