The word is out—Life Unboxed EDU is the coolest thing since sliced bread pizza. The program, offered to all Pizza Hut team members, allows participants to apply their on-the-job team member training courses as credits (up to 69 credit hours for Area Coaches and up to 53 credit hours for Restaurant General Managers) toward their chosen degree program at Excelsior College, a fully accredited, private, non-profit college with degrees at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
This fall, 52 motivated Pizza Hut employees piloted the program, and Hut Life met with three of them to learn more about their experience and find out if Life Unboxed EDU is really as good as it sounds. April Balina, Lucia Tamayo Tinoco, and Mamoud Bazian gave us their thoughts and impressions of what it’s like to go back to school, all while keeping up with their demanding jobs at Pizza Hut.
The short answer: Life Unboxed EDU is as good, and better, than advertised. With a few small hiccups at the beginning of their enrollment, all three participants agreed—getting your degree through Pizza Hut and Excelsior College lives up to the hype.
April was on the verge of going back to school when the Life Unboxed EDU program was announced, but it was a big decision that she’d been putting off. “In the past, work has kept me really busy—work, and my family life. I went to the Life Unboxed EDU webinar, and they said there’s never going to be a good time to go back to school. That struck a chord with me: there will always be an excuse.” Hearing that convinced her not to pass up on this opportunity.
Meanwhile, school was the furthest thing from Mamoud’s mind—with four kids under the age of 10 at home, things in Mamoud’s household tend to be slightly chaotic. Plus, Mamoud says, he was happy. “I’ve been an Area Coach for more than six years and with Pizza Hut seventeen years. I felt everything was going well and didn’t really think about school. But, when the Life Unboxed EDU program was announced, I thought, why not. What is there to lose? When I read the email from our Chief People Officer, it mentioned the Learning Zone credits, and joining really became a no-brainer. I didn’t have to start from zero.”
Not having to start from zero is a huge benefit, and removes one of the biggest barriers to getting your college degree. Lucia notes that the other difficulties she had been worried about seemed to melt away.
“Juggling everything has actually worked out a lot better than I had thought, because of the flexibility of it being online. There’s going to be extra activities that I will not be able to attend, but that’s ok. You have to make sacrifices in life, and this is too much of an opportunity for me to pass up and just let it blow by.”
That’s not to say that April, Lucia, and Mamoud didn’t face other challenges they weren’t expecting. For Lucia and April, who hadn’t taken online courses before, navigating the Excelsior registration system and website wasn’t the most intuitive. Being part of the Pizza Hut cohort going through the pilot program together has helped them overcome these hurdles—and April, Lucia and Mamoud all suggest finding a buddy to help you stay motivated.
At the end of the day, the benefits of the program far outweigh the costs for these three. For Mamoud, it’s about setting a high bar for his family. “I just starting thinking about the impact this program can have on my kids knowing that not only does their mom have a degree, their father does too. I think it sets the expectation that college is not an option; college is mandatory in our household and it’s the minimum of any education to go to college for at least two years, if not longer.”
April, Mamoud, and Lucia all count their families as their biggest cheerleaders, but there’s another pillar of support that they’ve found: their Pizza Hut family. April says, “When I go to restaurants now, absolutely we’ll talk about operations and the business, but then if they know I’m going to school, we talk about our last assignment. We have a stronger connection because we can talk about more than just work—we can talk about class, or our assignment, or grades, or what we’re struggling on, and it’s really helped our relationships.”
And for Lucia, she’s seen the direct impact that this program can have on a person’s future. She recounts a time when she was visiting a restaurant and one of her usually upbeat team members seemed a bit down. When Lucia asked her why she was upset, the young woman said her parents wanted her to quit Pizza Hut. “Her parents didn’t really see a future for her at Pizza Hut—it was really disappointing for her. Her parents decided that she needed to go to college, but they didn’t have the money for it and they wanted her to get a job behind a desk. She was really happy at Pizza Hut and didn’t want to leave, but they were pressuring her.”
Lucia told her about the Life Unboxed EDU program and gave the young woman some information to take home to her parents. “She came back a couple days later smiling from ear to ear. Her parents are hooked, she’s hooked, and now her parents are saying whoa, you need to find out more and continue to work at Pizza Hut. To me, it was very inspiring to know that the conversation went from ‘you need to quit’ to ‘you need to stay.’ Now she’s talking about eventually becoming a salaried manager and getting her tuition covered 100%.”
So, the jury has spoken: Life Unboxed EDU offers some great life lessons, and not just in the classroom. Mamoud, Lucia, and April have all gotten so much more out of the program than just straight A’s—they approach their work and home lives in a new way, and hope to bring others through the program with them. To learn more about Life Unboxed EDU, check out lifeunboxed.excelsior.edu.