Susan “Sooz” Konopik

Location: Oak Harbor, Wash. (on Whidbey Island), USA
Age: 58

It’s hard to fathom how far Sooz Konopik has come in just two years.

In December 2013, Sooz was suffering through treatment for breast cancer. The disease took a toll on her auto-immune system, and when her body tried to combat the tumor, it affected her brain. “I didn’t know what would happen to me,” she says, “but I wanted to fight it.”

She’d stopped her work as a massage therapist, her occupation of 18 years, when the cancer depleted her stamina. Without an income and facing long months of treatment, Sooz felt scared and lost. To keep her brain sharp and her mind off her troubles, Sooz went online and did a search for “free online courses,” thinking she might resume her study of Mandarin Chinese. Upon finding Udemy, “I pretty much broke down and cried,” she recalls.

She’d never taken an online course, wasn’t sure what to expect, and feared getting roped into expensive, recurring payments. Udemy was the easiest and best online learning site she found because there were lots of free and low-cost options, and she could take breaks without penalty when she was feeling sick.

After “Chinese Made Easy: An Exciting Start to Chinese” with instructor Felix Lättman, Sooz felt her self-confidence coming back and was energized to do more. She’d undergone nine months of radiation treatment and then got “a piece of paper saying, ‘Yay, you’re done,’ but then you ask yourself, ‘Now what?’” Knowing the physical work of massage was no longer an option, she started in on business courses. “I went to school when there weren’t computers, so I knew if I was going to reenter the work world, I’d need to update those things,” she explains.

Sooz figured her best shot was “secretarial” work. She signed up for Jim Hopkinson’s “Salary Negotiation: How to Learn the Negotiation Mindset, as well as courses to build her computer skills and learn more about project management, fundraising, and LinkedIn marketing.

Sooz had also done wedding planning on the side — a very in-demand service in a town with a Naval Air Station — and applied for an events coordinator position with the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. She included a sheet with her resume listing her relevant Udemy courses and, according to Sooz, “that sold ‘em.” She discussed her Udemy coursework in her interview with the executive director and was able to show, thanks to her broad range of newly acquired skills, “I’m not just a one-trick pony.”

Two months into her new job, Sooz continues to learn on Udemy. Most recently, she finished Udemy instructor Jarno Stegeman’s “How to Plan a Successful Event: An Easy Guide.” Even with her past experience, “the information in this course was a lot more than I ever thought of, and it’s making my job easier.” She gives Stegeman high marks for being approachable (“he didn’t put a lot of ego into it”), addressing the right topics, and eliminating distractions.

Sooz can’t believe, after all she’s been through, she’s now working in her “dream job.” She has many more ideas for maximizing her impact at the Chamber and expects Udemy to help her achieve her goals; she plans to take a grant writing course and a PowerPoint course so she and other staff can help committee members create better presentations. (For fun, she’s eyeing a course on balloon decorating too.)

Most of all, she’s eager to give back to the community and has already contacted her local general hospital’s cancer survivor group. She wants to tell everyone else going through cancer treatment about their online learning options so they know there’s hope for having a productive post-recovery life. She’s a walking example of what’s possible: “It is a wonderful new world for me, and I could not have achieved it without the help of Udemy! As you can see, I am still enrolling in your classes and hope I never have to stop!”