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Magdalena Petko
Magdalena Petko

University of Hawaiʻi alumna Magdalena Petko, found her path to a master’s degree in second language studies (SLS), a new career and an unexpected ʻohana through an accelerated degree program at UH Mānoa.

The Combined Bachelor’s & Master’s Degree Pathway or BAM program encourages high-performing UH Mānoa undergraduate students to commit to a master’s program early and take graduate-level classes in their senior year. The program helped Petko go from testing the waters for a return to college to employment as an instructor with the UH Mānoa Hawaiʻi English Language Program (HELP).

“I was very excited to take graduate-level classes as an undergraduate student,” Petko said. “Those advanced classes encouraged me to engage with topics about teaching and learning additional languages on a deeper level.”

Petko came to Hawaiʻi from Germany 11 years ago with her husband and children. While she has a German physical therapy degree, she decided to return to school and start a new career. She enrolled in Kapiʻolani Community College’s Second Language Teaching (SLT) program, “to get my feet wet and figure out if being in college while raising four children would work out for me,” she said.

Not only did it work out for Petko, in her last semester in SLT, she decided to transfer to UH Mānoa to continue her studies and work on a bachelor’s degree with the encouragement of Kapiʻolani CC Assistant Professor Shawn Ford and Instructor Carrie Torres. Once at UH Mānoa, she double majored and earned a bachelor’s degree in SLS and German in 2019. Through taking graduate-level classes alongside her undergraduate classes, Petko earned her master’s degree in SLS in 2021. She credits SLS Undergraduate Coordinator Kenton Harsch as the “main cheerleader in applying for the BAM program.”

Finding a second ʻohana

Five graduates in caps and gowns
Petko (center) with fellow SLS MA graduates

“At times as an undergraduate student in the grad-level classes, I felt like an imposter,” Petko said. “I had self-doubts about my academic performance, which quickly evaporated as I fit right in with the graduate students. The professors provided us with positive feedback…and our worries quickly dissipated.”

In addition to taking a greater load of classes, Petko was working as a graduate assistant with HELP. Although her schedule was very full, Petko found support and camaraderie with other BAM students.

“I did not anticipate encountering such a tight-knit and welcoming community starting from being a BAM student,” she said. “I met many interesting new faces and felt academically challenged. The other BAM students and I became our own little ʻohana in the larger SLS ʻohana.”

More on the BAM program

BAM pathways afford a way for highly motivated students to efficiently complete a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree or post-baccalaureate certificate in a shorter time frame by taking graduate courses alongside undergraduate courses at the undergraduate tuition rate.

[The BAM program] allowed for a smooth transition and kept me motivated to strive for the next higher degree.
—Magdalena Petko

In most cases, pathway students graduate with the bachelor’s degree and master’s degree within five years total.

There are currently more than 20 BAM pathways in a variety of fields including multidisciplinary pathways with plans to expand to more disciplines. There are also three combined bachelors and post-baccalaureate pathways for undergraduates interested in a post-baccalaureate certificate in teacher education.

“Without the BAM program, I am unsure if I would have continued and finished with a master’s degree,” Petko said. “It allowed for a smooth transition and kept me motivated to strive for the next higher degree.” She encourages other students thinking of starting on their own BAM pathway to “go for it.”

“Students who are curious beyond the undergrad level of classes will enjoy the additional challenge and atmosphere in graduate-level classes,” she said. “The program can be a time saver but is also flexible enough to let you slow down again if needed later on at the graduate level. If you have high expectations, and communication and organization are your strong suit, the program is for you.”

Find out more about BAM pathways.

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