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Surprise! ASU graduate student keeps degree pursuit under wraps and surprises family

Amanda Goodman

What’s the longest you’ve kept a secret? A day? A week? A month? A recent College of Nursing and Health Innovation graduate student might just have you beat.

Yevgeniy Katsnelson went an entire year with his lips sealed about his recent academic undertaking at Arizona State University.

In 2017, he enrolled in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation Master of Healthcare Innovation (MHI) online program, but he decided not to tell his wife or the rest of his family.

In an email he explained why he kept everyone in the dark.

“At the age of 40, I felt that I may not succeed in finishing the program,” Katsnelson said, adding, “Half of me felt I could it, and the other half wasn’t sure I could handle the load. By keeping this a secret I always had a reason to study. The fact that nobody knew I was pursuing the MHI actually made me keep going.”

Rick Hall, director of health innovation for the college, says the MHI program requires a really high level of discipline when it comes to time management, especially for students who have to work while enrolled.  

Because of that, Hall says having a support system that involves friends and family helps most students get through the program successfully.

“When Yev told me in the application interview that he wanted to keep it a secret from his family, I was a little hesitant to support the idea; but when he told me why, I understood his motivation — I just didn’t know if he could pull it off,” Hall said. “He did it, however, and the result is exciting."  

There was one person who knew, a close friend of Katsnelson who lives in Los Angeles; Katsnelson said she was essentially his entire support group.

His motivation for seeking a higher degree came from within his own family dynamic.

Graduation announcement of ASU student Yevgeniy Katsnelson
Yevgeniy Katsnelson, who graduated from ASU's Master of Healthcare Innovation online program this spring, only told his family that he had been pursuing his degree a week before commencement when he mailed out the announcement.

Katsnelson, who lives in Cleveland, comes from a long line of accomplished academics. He says both his parents have master’s degrees, his sister has an MBA, his father-in-law a PhD and his wife is currently a medical resident working toward her MD.

“Technically, I was lagging behind with my education,” he said.

Not anymore.

After an intense year managing the MHI online classes, studying, running a complex online business and juggling family life, he learned he’d be eligible to walk for graduation in May.

"He’s done very well in the program, because he is very motivated and has a very strong work ethic," Hall said.

Katsnelson is still working on his capstone and will officially be finished later this summer.

“I have to admit that I am a bit smarter now than I was a year ago, and I enjoyed the content of the program,” said Katsnelson.

He decided to spill his secret in a unique way, only letting his family know a week before convocation.

“I made a postcard and mailed it to everyone with tracking so I knew when they would receive it,” he said. “My parents got the card with flight tickets and hotel reservation and were totally shocked that everything was paid for and that I was graduating.”

His wife was stunned and amazed by the admission, Katsnelson says both of them were moved to tears over his incredible accomplishment.

“It was great!”

Now that he has earned his master’s degree, Katsnelson says he's exploring doctoral programs — adding that if he decides to go down that path, everyone will know about it.