Busy technology director turns to online option to earn PhD

Before earning her online PhD in technology and leadership in 2004, Dr. Dani Babb worked as an associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health in Southern California. During her tenure, she taught health information systems in a hybrid format, rotating weekly between traditional and online instruction.

When she decided to advance her career by pursuing a doctoral degree, she found that an online education not only worked best for her learning style, it also best suited her busy work life. Dr. Babb is founder and chief executive officer of The Babb Group, which has offices in California and New York. Babb also teaches a variety of subjects online, including economics, technology, statistics and health care information technology.

Q: Why did you decide to earn your PhD online? Did you have other options?

A: I was accepted into two schools that were local in California. At the time I was working as senior technology director for a national home builder, and I was on the road about 10 months of the year as my company acquired new businesses. The admissions staff at the local colleges suggested my life “simmer down” before I pursued my doctorate. They were adamant about me being free from a job because they didn’t want my job to conflict with my schoolwork. But that wasn’t an option, and that was when I decided to look online.

q: What were the challenges of earning an online technology degree? How did you overcome them?

A: Technology is a very practitioner-based degree and requires some concepts that are sometimes easier understood in front of a teacher in a classroom. It’s really up to the learner to take the material from the instructor and then to do labs, programming assignments, networking assignments and so on without having someone show you in person.

Technical courses aren’t easy to take online — technology and statistics are the hardest subjects to grasp in an online environment. Visual learners may struggle more. My best method of learning is reading, then re-reading, then writing down what I read to help me grasp the concepts.

When I was at home I set up a small lab environment to simulate what I’d have in a university lab. I set aside time that was best for me to study — on airplanes and late at night. I did lot of work in Miami, and that’s a 6.5-hour flight. I’d print and read scholarly journals on long flights, draft homework offline on planes and upload my responses when I landed.

Q: How did you interact with professors and other students through online study? What method worked best?

A: Online discussion boards/threads were the predominant method. Course-based messaging was crucial to send private notes to the instructor, and email of course was a vital part of communication. Interactions also took place through virtual presentations. I defended my dissertation on a conference line — traditional students do it in a classroom. It’s the same process just using different technology.

Q: Any advice for students considering an online doctoral degree?

A: Know your learning style. If you are a visual learner and need to stop in for office hours to see your professor, this may not be the right way to learn. If you need to be motivated externally by professors or peers, this may not be the right method. But if you are internally motivated, driven, can write well, enjoy an online environment and gain satisfaction from creating friendships and collegial working relationships online, it’s fantastic.

Also, find a regionally accredited school to make sure the quality of education is there and that your units will be transferable should you want to change universities.

Q: What’s the best thing you can recommend about an online PhD program?

A: Determine if you have the ability to go to residencies — my program required three on-ground intense research residencies that were done on my vacation time. If you can’t possibly attend one, find a program without a residency requirement. And start reading books on proper APA formatting!

Q: With your PhD in hand, how have your career prospects opened up?

A: My consulting rates for being a subject matter expert, course design, teaching and speaking went up dramatically. It’s difficult to begin and build credibility and having a doctorate helps do that out of the gate with new potential business partners.

Online PhD earner proves professionals can benefit from education

Kevin Gazzara, PhD, worked at two Fortune 100 companies (Transamerica and Intel) for 28 years. Four years ago, at the age of 51, he took voluntary early retirement from a stable and prestigious position at Intel as a program manager for its worldwide management and leadership residential programs. He left with two of his Intel colleagues to create an exceptionally successful management and leadership consulting firm, Magna Leadership Solutions. Since Gazzara left corporate America, he’s consulted for many Fortune 500 companies, landed on the faculty at four universities–both online and on campus, and published a book on leadership, “The Leader of OZ.” Gazzara believes earning his doctoral degree online in October 2001 was a big key to his recent success.

Q: Why did you choose to earn your doctorate online?

A: I earned my doctorate of management in organizational leadership. I was working full-time at Intel when I enrolled. My job required a lot of traveling and a lot of it was international. I could have gone to the state university that was close to my house, or another that was a two-hour drive from where I live in Arizona, but most of the programs were not geared to working adults. I didn’t have enough flexibility in my work schedule to complete an on-campus program, and I knew from my learning style that I would be able to study online and would be able to finish my dissertation once I completed my coursework.

When I looked at more traditional programs, there were many courses that, while interesting, were not what I wanted to take. My online program focused on management and leadership–there wasn’t a single course I didn’t want to take … Earning a doctorate degree online was a great solution for me.

Q: What were the challenges and benefits of earning a doctoral degree online?

A: The best part was that everything was under my control, from a time management perspective. It allowed me to do that work online and fit it around my work schedule and travel. I didn’t have to be online the same time everyday. My school posts the entire syllabus for each eight-week session at the beginning so you know exactly what you have to do for those eight weeks. My then teen-age daughters played competitive softball and so in addition to traveling for work, my wife and I were taking them to playoff games, and I needed even more flexibility, which studying online allowed.

Another advantage to earning an online doctorate is that you have tremendous resources available to you. Online resources are not an afterthought. The online resources from the libraries and what they make available to you are just astronomical. It’s way beyond what you can get elsewhere.

With online learning, you don’t get the face-to-face interactions you do in a classroom, but the doctoral program had a residency requirement for that. For two weeks every year, we got together and developed a face-to-face relationship with other students and faculty. When I went through the program, I did it from start to finish in two-and-a-half years. They have since redesigned it so it’s now three-and-a-half to four years. It was a little insane to do the 60 credits of coursework and my dissertation in that short of a time, but my boss at Intel allowed me to work four 10-hour days. I had Fridays off so I could use that time to do writing and research and everything else that goes along with earning a doctoral degree online.

Q: What advice would you give those considering an online doctorate degree?

A: Don’t believe for a second that an online doctoral degree is easier or less work than an on-campus program. I can tell you from a student’s and from a professor’s perspective that online programs are significantly more work, which I wouldn’t have expected when I started taking courses or teaching in the program. It’s not just a little bit more work, it’s a lot. But you learn a lot quickly. It hones your critical thinking skills in a way that is much different from in-person classroom exchanges.

Also, you have to want to earn a degree not just so you can put initials after your name or get a promotion. Your degree may get you in the door, but it’s your ability to demonstrate knowledge and apply that knowledge that will keep you there and allow you to be successful.

Online PhD in education helps student become teacher

Kaye Shelton considers herself a true Nebraska Cornhusker — she even flies the University of Nebraska flag from her front porch, much to the chagrin of her neighbors in Beaumont, Texas, which is University of Texas Longhorns country.

However, outside of attending a few football games, Shelton hasn’t spent much time on the campus of the venerable university in Lincoln, Neb. Instead, Shelton earned an online PhD in education and leadership from Nebraska, a career move that helped her land her current job as associate professor of education leadership, doctoral studies, at Lamar University in Beaumont. Prior to that she worked as a dean of online education at Dallas Baptist University, where she developed a quality scorecard for online educational program.

Shelton says she started her PhD program at the University of North Texas in Denton, but after driving an hour and fighting traffic, she was completely stressed out and frustrated by time she eventually arrived at class. She switched mid-stream and enrolled in the online PhD in education and leadership program offered by the University of Nebraska.

Q: In addition to avoiding the commute, what made you decide to pursue an online PhD in education? Did you have other options?

A: I did my master’s in online teaching and learning at California State University-Hayward. I am a mother of three boys, and I was working 50 hours a week — there was no way I could have gone to brick-and-mortar campus.

Q: What were the challenges of studying your field online? How did you overcome them?

A: When doing a project for the classes, you do not get to sit face-to-face with your instructors, but you can overcome that with Skype or WebEx or other programs. Also, I worked with professors that were keenly interested in me and in my success. I never felt like a distance learning student, and I was never treated any differently.

Q: What were the main benefits of earning a PhD online? Are there benefits inherent in your online program not found in other avenues of study?

A: It helped me to experience being an online student; I could identify and help improve my programs and also feel the frustration of the students. Another benefit was working under some of the most respected faculty in the country in education research.

Q: How did your interactions with professors and other students work through online study? What method worked best?

A: We used a coursework management system, Blackboard. You need to have a good Internet connection; dial up wouldn’t have been a good option. It is also important for a student to be comfortable with a computer and the technical skills needed. You don’t have to be an expert, but you need to be comfortable and to expect technology to fail sometimes and be comfortable with that.

Q: Were there professional or job placement resources available to you in your program? How did they help you advance your career?

A: I already had a job [as dean of online education at Dallas Baptist], but my husband relocated and now I am an associate professor of education leadership, doctoral studies, at Lamar University in Beaumont. I teach doctoral-level classes and chair students working on their dissertations. I teach on campus and online, and I literally am starting to do the same thing that I had to do at Nebraska.

Q: Any advice for students considering an online PhD in education?

A: Make sure the institution is regionally accredited, and try to talk to other students to find out about their experience. Google the university’s name. You definitely need to not just click on first web link that you find and go to school there. You need to do your research. There were a lot of online programs for me to look at, but the one I chose was the most prestigious and the best for value.

Also, make sure there is a process in place for faculty to work with you to complete the dissertation process. Make sure you are guaranteed interaction with faculty members.

Q: With your PhD in education and leadership in hand, how have your career prospects increased?

A: Consulting opportunities have really opened up — I literally am having to turn opportunities down. It certainly made it easier to find my current faculty position. I was well established as a dean, but having a PhD certainly helped my position as a doctoral professor at Lamar. I wouldn’t even have been considered if I didn’t have it.

Online master’s degree helps nurse start her own business

Alicia Sable-Hunt was a registered nurse who dreamed of creating a delicious nutrition bar that met the specific dietary needs of cancer patients. She had only one problem: her bachelor’s degree in nursing hadn’t included any business classes. She decided to earn an MBA in marketing online before moving into the business world. Today, she’s the president and founder of Sable’s Foods and Edwards-Hunt Group, a medical consulting group.

What inspired you to head back to school?

I work in health care, where a graduate degree is necessary for career advancement, especially in the clinical research sub-specialty. Second, I had an idea — Sable’s Foods — but didn’t know how to bring it to fruition. I needed a business background to move forward with my idea. My inner drive to learn and experience more combined with an entrepreneurial spirit drove me to continue my education.

Why did you choose an online program specifically?

My work schedule and personality was best suited for a non-traditional program. I was working long hours and traveling extensively for work. I could not attend a traditional program and complete my degree in a timely manner. In addition, my personality is driven towards alternative solutions to every challenge. I like to try new and different ways of achieving an end result. I am a risk taker. I had a positive experience with online education, so the choice was easy for me.

What were you surprised by while earning an MBA in marketing online?

I find students are more interactive in an online environment. The fear of speaking up in a public forum is minimized, and therefore I received a great deal of feedback on my ideas. The fact that I had a sounding board, one without judgment, was very useful. I found this to be an important component for a degree that requires a level of creativity.

How did your interactions with professors and other students happen online?

All of my interactions with the professors and students were online. In fact, I don’t remember speaking directly with anyone other than my enrollment counselor. While this may sound impersonal to some, the quality and frequency of the communication was high. I never felt alone or without support/resources.

What did a typical day look like while you were earning your MBA?

If I was home, I would work all day and complete my studies in the evening. When I was traveling, which was most of the time; I would complete my homework on the airplane, check into class from a wi-fi spot on the road, and complete the bulk of my studies late at night or before sunrise.

Give an example of a challenge you overcame while completing your thesis project.

My thesis was a marketing plan for Sable’s Foods. I was actively trying to create the product while I was writing my thesis project. It was difficult to think strategic (thesis) while also being tactical (baking the bars). The transition between the two thought processes was difficult — consider the expression “seeing the forest through the trees.” On a daily basis, I had to spend time in the kitchen creating the product then spend my evenings building a strategic marketing plan. I suspect, it is a challenge — I should say a skill set — every small-businessperson must learn.

What was your experience of starting two businesses after earning your online degree?

To sum it up: exhilarating, exhausting, lonely, and the best and worst time of my life. To finally have the knowledge to turn my ideas into businesses was, and continues to be, exhilarating! The time and commitment required to do both at the same time was exhausting and lonely. I spent 18-20 hours per day, in an office (Edwards-Hunt Group) or kitchen (Sable’s Foods), building my businesses. There was no time for a vacation or holiday, very little time for friends and family, all of which leads to a very lonely existence. But the end result is two businesses that I am proud of. The sacrifice was worth it.

What advice would you give those considering an online degree?

It is critically important to perform a realistic self-assessment. An individual needs to know what motivates them in a scholastic environment (e.g. do they need the structure of attending a moderator-led class in a physical location three times per week), how they absorb information (e.g. visual vs. reading vs. lecture) and their commitment level (e.g. include the time and cost of commuting to a class into the decision).

Nurse launches public speaking career with help of online degree

Jeff Solheim is a lymphatic cancer survivor who started his career in nursing and eventually became the founder and director of the nonprofit Project Helping Hands, which benefits Third World medical organizations. He talks to OnlineDegrees.com about how his online master’s degree in nursing helped him continue his work.

What inspired you to go back to school?

As my career progressed, I had started doing speaking engagements including motivational speaking and commencement speeches. Many times, the theme of these talks was professionalism. I started feeling like a bit of a hypocrite because one of the components of professionalism is having an advanced degree. I had embodied professionalism in many ways without a degree, but I also felt if I was going to continue to speak, I would need to practice what I preached.

What made you decide to attend nursing school online?

My life was very full at the time. I was speaking professionally and running three companies, so I knew taking time to go back to school was going to be a challenge I would have to figure out how to balance. I had a choice to either cut back on my career or find a program that would allow me to balance my career, personal life and school.

Western Governors University was the perfect balance — the competency-based program allowed me to draw on everything I had already learned from my full career. I found the online program to be the perfect fit so I could balance work life and school life. I was able to demonstrate what I had already learned from my career so I wouldn’t waste time being taught things I already knew.

Were there any surprising benefits of earning a nursing degree online?

In addition to schedule flexibility, I really enjoyed having the ability to carve my own path. Because I attended a competency-based program, I had more control in what direction I would take. I could see what might be coming up in my career and plan the timing of a course that would fit in with my travel schedule.

Occasionally, some of the courses would actually match my life to my schoolwork. For example, I did a genogram of South Sudan because I was able to time that course to be right after I was in Sudan. I really got a chance to study the community there. It was an incredible assignment, and I was able to contribute in a unique way. I couldn’t have timed that course in a traditional program and I really appreciated the opportunity to guide my studies to fit my life.

How did you work with professors and peers online?

When I would start on a project, I read on online forums what other students had experienced and that helped prepare me. I had lots of tools from other students that allowed me to build on their past experiences and additional resources were available. The course mentors who were in charge of the course were also available for help.

What did a typical day look like while you were earning your online master’s degree in nursing?

Because of my hectic work schedule, if I saw that I would be home for a week, I would spend a lot of time doing research and putting things together during the time I was home. Believe it or not, most of my assignments were written on a plane once I had completed all the research first, and then I would submit the assignment when I arrived.

Tell us about Project Helping Hands

Project Helping Hands is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that sends medical teams to developing countries. We have sent volunteers to almost every continent to provide medical, dental and optometry care to those who would normally not get it. This year alone, we treated 30,000 patients.

How has the nursing master’s degree been a benefit to your career as a nonprofit founder and writer?

Although I had already established my career without my master’s degree, having my master’s has increased my comfort so I can better practice what I preach. It also has boosted my own self-confidence. When I submit my credentials for a textbook, I know that I have the proper credentials for what I’m doing.

What advice would you give those considering an online nursing degree?

Online education is an excellent option for certain people but I’m not convinced it would be a good option for everyone. It takes self-discipline to be successful when deadlines are not necessarily as fixed as in traditional education. My advice is to make sure you have the self-discipline to stay on track.

Linda Rich: Three years, two online degrees, one class at a time

As an operations consultant for Rehabcare, a physical therapy rehabilitation management company, Linda Rich travels five days a week and helps hospitals and other facilities manage their rehab programs. In three years — less than one-quarter of the time she’s worked for Rehabcare — Rich earned both a bachelor’s degree in health care management and a master’s degree in human resources. How did she do it? Online, one class at a time.

Q:How did you finish your bachelor’s degree in health care management in just a year?

A:I started my bachelor’s degree with Ottawa University in the 1980s. Life just kept getting in the way. I was never able to finish my degree, though I only had one course left to complete. Because so much time had lapsed, I had to retake some courses. I started the second time around 2008.

Q:Why did you continue your education with an online master’s degree program in human resources?

A:I looked at the health care industry — there are a lot of MBAs and people managing the business. But in my opinion, human resources is what drives our business. I felt like there were already a lot of people tending to the business, so I decided to focus on how to improve human resources.

Q:What were the benefits and challenges of earning two degrees online?

A:Traditional classes were not going to work based on my availability. Online education allowed me to take classes and still complete my obligation to my job and, somewhat, to my family. The instructors work with you and help you make sure that you’re part of the class. It’s really a great experience.

Everyone was available as a resource. You could reach out at any time and people will call you back on weekends or evenings–it didn’t matter. People call you back and make you feel like you’re part of an organization.

Getting online was sometimes a challenge because I travel to a lot of different areas, and connectivity could be a problem.

Q:What was your class load and schedule like while traveling for work?

A:I took one class at a time, most of the time. There were two or three times that I took two classes at once, but it was a little more than I could handle. One class really worked for me and kept me going.

A class finished on Sunday, and the next class started on Monday. When I first started, classes were 11 weeks long. When I finished, I was part of the pilot program for eight-week classes.

The only time I had off was around three weeks between Christmas and New Year’s. That’s your choice. If you choose to take the summer off, you can. Taking one class at a time, I wasn’t getting any younger, so I needed to go ahead and finish it without any time off.

Q:How would you describe your interactions in the online classroom?

A:You actually forget that you’re not sitting there and talking to people. The discussion boards can get lively. It depends on the instructors.

Some teachers are better than others. They all try to make you feel included. They expand on the questions and discussions, and you get into this rhythm of back and forth.

You can call some of your classmates on the phone and talk to them, and they call you. You can really develop camaraderie; it just happens — you naturally start talking to each other. There are people who answer certain ways online and you think you would like to get their opinion. Or you get tired of the back and forth on the discussion boards, and sometimes it’s easier to pick up the phone.

Q:What advice would you give to someone thinking about earning a health care management degree online?

A:You need to first determine your needs. What kind of time of do you have? How is this going to fit into your schedule? Choose the program that fits you. They’re not all the same. Some require that you’re in front of a webcam at a certain time to be part of a true classroom setting. That doesn’t give you much flexibility. Choose the program that gives you the advantage to tend to your needs and be able to better your career at the same time.

Former UN police officer pulls off two online degrees under pressure

Mike Sanchez had a challenging career as an international police officer working for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), but his lack of a degree was standing between him and career advancement. So Sanchez turned to online education to help him earn two criminal justice degrees and further his career.

With the help of some transfer credits, Sanchez earned a Bachelor of Arts in Police Science through Ottawa University in less than a year while living in Kosovo. After a positive online experience with his first degree, Sanchez immediately enrolled in an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration program at another school, which he completed in May 2011. He talks to OnlineDegrees.com about how he balanced his online studies with work and living abroad.

Q:What was happening in your life when you made the decision to enroll in an online bachelor’s degree program?

A:I was working as an international police officer for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) International Police. This was a very challenging job, and as I rose up the chain of command and made a name for myself within the UN system, job offers started coming my way. My lack of a degree was killing me as all of the job offers had a minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree.

At the time I started attending Ottawa University, I was the director of personnel and administration (DPA) for the UNMIK Police. This position put me at number 10 on the chain of command out of 2,190 international police officers from 47 countries and was exceptionally challenging.

Q:What was it like earning a criminal justice degree online, especially while living abroad?

A:I really didn’t know what to expect from online education, but have come to see it as a very valuable and effective venue when the material is presented properly. Also, I think people who are older and have more professional and life experience benefit more.

I thought that living abroad would make online study difficult, but it was quite the opposite. I was able to work at my own pace and on my own schedule. This made accomplishing my goals much easier than I had expected.

Q:How did you balance your work responsibilities with your study schedule?

A:I really discovered the art of multi-tasking and time management when I was director of personnel and administration. My work load was demanding, but I would run many applications on my work computer simultaneously. I could do online research or work on a paper during the breaks in my work load. At home I would work on the “heavy lifting” of reading and writing.

I will admit that my program did tax my abilities to the limit, but my work performance didn’t suffer from it. The toughest part was when I was trying to beat a graduation deadline of December 31, 2008, to qualify for a UN job. My school worked very hard to help me meet this goal. I was actually granted a waiver to take four classes simultaneously in order to have my degree conferred by the deadline. I couldn’t have possibly asked for more assistance or accommodation from Ottawa.

Q:How did the online classroom work?

A:The syllabus was presented at the start of the class, along with a break down week by week of assignments and expectations. There were weekly discussions in the discussion forum on a subject selected by the professor.

I found the online classroom relatively easy to use. One of the things that I liked a lot was the fact that we were able to access previous classes after we had moved on. This was important because there were a few times when another student had said something very interesting that came to mind in another class. I was able to go back and access that statement.

Q:What surprised you the most about earning your degrees online?

A:I was most surprised at how relevant and crucial to the learning experience the discussion forums are. I thought the professors did an excellent job making sure everyone was truly engaged in this aspect of the course, rather than just going through the motions.

In some of my master’s courses, the students took turns facilitating the discussion forum, which was interesting and an appropriate step for a graduate-level course.

Q:You earned a 4.0 GPA in two different online degree programs. What tips can you share with other students?

A:I worked very hard to establish and keep myself ahead of the curve, meaning assignments that were due on Friday were generally turned in on Monday. This gave me the flexibility to adapt to fluctuations in my workload.

After I completed my bachelor’s degree, I was so pleased with the result that I immediately jumped into a graduate-level online criminal justice degree. I was working as the deputy regional commander for the UN Police in the Les Cayes region of Haiti when the earthquake hit on January 12, 2010. My habit of staying ahead of the curve allowed me to complete all of my assignments in time, in spite of being propelled into the position of regional commander immediately after the earthquake.

My advice to anyone studying online is to stay as far ahead of the curve as possible–it saved me a couple of times.

Online master’s turns mortgage broker into “Queen of Quitting”

Tobacco treatment specialist V.J. Sleight graduated from Northcentral University with a master’s degree in health psychology/behavioral medicine in 2010. She is the author of the books “Tips to Win at Quitting Smoking” and “Crush Your Butts,” and she keeps up her helpful blog at “Stop Smoking, Stay Quit.” V.J. used an online master’s degree in health care to help shape her passion into a career.

Q: I see you’re a recent 2010 graduate. Congratulations! What inspired you to head back to school?

A: I had been working as a mortgage broker for over 20 years, which gave me the time and freedom to pursue my passion of helping others quit smoking. I wanted to prepare for a second career when I retired from the mortgage business and went back to school in 2003 starting with just one class at Cal State – San Bernardino, a traditional university.

There were several times where my lack of a formal education had limited my opportunities. For example, Riverside County had wanted to hire me, except I didn’t have a degree and so they couldn’t, even though I had more experience and knowledge about cessation than anyone else. On another occasion, I was hired to give a talk to doctors and at the last minute had to find another speaker to share the platform because I didn’t have a degree. So I didn’t want the lack of a formal education to be a hindrance. When the mortgage industry imploded, I was ready.

Q: What made you choose a health psychology/behavioral medicine degree?

A: I already knew what I wanted to do for a second career, so I looked for a program that would best suit my professional interests. When I started, I knew that eventually I wanted to write books and deliver talks to both smokers and health care professionals about cessation.

Q: What made you decide to attend school online as opposed to a traditional program?

I had just finished at a brick-and-mortar school and I found it very constrictive. I was older than many of the teachers and students, yet I had to conform to the class requirements, many of which I found to be useless to me. For example, in one of the advanced classes, we had to do a group PowerPoint project — “because it would look good on our resume” — but at my age, I had already delivered PowerPoint presentations at national conferences. Also, I didn’t want to spend countless hours on the freeway commuting, and, locally, the program options didn’t fit into my career path.

Q: What were the benefits of earning a health care master’s degree online?

A: I assumed that the online classes wouldn’t be rigorous enough, but instead they were more challenging. Plus I was able to customize many of the writing projects to include aspects of smoking cessation, which dovetailed with my career.

Q: How did your interactions with professors and other students happen online? Any surprises?

A: I was happy to not have to do “group” projects with other students. I know that some online schools do that, and I didn’t want to interact with other students like I did at Cal State for my BA.

Q: What did a typical day look like while you were going to school online?

For me there was no typical day, which is why online was perfect for me. I am very disciplined, so I would read/research/write whenever I had free time. Sometimes that was in the middle of the night — having online library access was great. I learned to order my books ASAP. My goal was to finish reading them and have the first assignment ready to submit before the actual class started. I also highlighted sections that corresponded to the syllabus, so that a lot of the research was already done. This gave me a head start and a more rounded view of what was expected in the class. Because there was so much research to read, I always carried a couple of papers with me to read at odd times — waiting at the doctor’s office or even at a long red light, for example.

Q: Tell us about your books and blog.

A: I had always wanted to write a book about quitting smoking. For my program “Stop Smoking, Stay Quit” I created a 65-page workbook, and “Tips to Win at Quitting” is built off of that workbook. “Crush your Butts” goes further into the psychology behind the work required to go from being a smoker to being smoke-free. The book had stories of smokers I collected from my 20 years of workshops. Both books are available as e-books and I am exploring publishing options.

The book I am currently working on is for health care professionals: how to effectively motivate patients to become smoke-free. Future books will include one for family and friends of smokers: how to help them quit without nagging, shaming or blaming.

Q: How has the new master’s degree been a benefit to your career?

A: Probably the biggest benefit is the confidence my degree gives me. My educational credentials are no longer questioned, and the degree rounded out my knowledge about cessation. Because of my years of clinical experience, the research was often directly applicable to my career as a tobacco treatment specialist.

Q: What advice would you give those considering an online health care degree?

A: Know your endgame. If you don’t know how you will use your degree, having an online degree might not help you. For example, in California, you must attend a brick-and-mortar school to become a marriage and family therapist. If I had wanted to switch, none of my classes would have been transferable. Find an accredited school, and be honest: If you can’t work independently or you need someone looking over your shoulder, online education is not for you.

Online student gains skills to become better teacher

For Kevin Silva, earning an online master’s degree in education meant a means to even more job security. Though he already ran his school’s learning and course management system, he knew a degree would help him in the long run. Once Kevin graduated with a degree that focused on instructional technology, he found career advancement built in to his future. Here is his story.

Q: What made you decide to attend school online?

A: The No.1 reason was [the time it would take to] travel to and from any campus in southern California. No. 2 reason is the flexibility of time shifting the work to when I had time. Busy and inconsistent work responsibilities meant I couldn’t attend a regularly scheduled class. I personally couldn’t have done it any other way.

Q: Were there any surprising benefits of studying instructional design and technology online, as opposed to in a traditional program?

A: Given that I ran the [learning/course management systems] at the university I worked for, it was invaluable for me as a teacher to experience what students were experiencing, from the minor inconveniences, such as slow performance, to the major issues of adjusting to each instructor’s teaching style and course organization. Uniform organization of courses within a program is very helpful.

Q: How did your interactions with professors and other students happen online?

A: Online interactions were conducted in chat rooms, discussion boards, emails and phone calls. Occasionally I would get together in person with a classmate, but never with the instructor.

Q: What sort of professional or job placement resources were available to you in the program?

A: There was placement available, but I didn’t access it because I was already employed. At work, I was eventually promoted to associate director of instructional technology. I attribute this to getting the master’s degree.

Q: What did a typical day look like while you were going to school online?

A: Generally, I would check the course site Monday morning to review the coursework for the week. By Wednesday, I would be submitting assignments and posting to the discussion board. Usually, I checked into class once a day in the evening. For me, there wasn’t a routine in communicating with classmates. It was as needed.

Q: Give an example of a challenge you overcame while earning your degree.

A: Because I was in the first cohort of students going through the online program, there were instances where the syllabus wasn’t being followed or instructors weren’t communicating in a timely manner. As with anything, challenging the administration or curriculum or instructor can have consequences.

Q: What was your experience of getting your first job after earning an education degree online?

A: Having the master’s degree adds a lot of credibility in many work situations, especially in running the learning management system and in teaching online.

Q: Now that you’ve been on both sides of online education, what would you do differently as a student?

A: Nothing really. I got a 3.9 in my program. When I was younger and in [an undergraduate program], I lacked motivation and connection to the material. Now, I am challenged by learning and comprehension. It was more fun because I wanted to know what was being taught. Students should choose programs based on their interests and learning styles and be wary of getting a degree for sake of having one. It’s too expensive and time-consuming to experiment with a college education. Know what you want or wait until you do.

Q: What advice would you give those considering an online degree?

A: Check out the program: the instructors, current students, past students, GPA [required] to get in, GPAs in the program, graduation rate, satisfaction rate, job placement, the ratio of tuition to starting or prevailing wages for the specialty, and availability of jobs after graduation. Treat spending money on an education as seriously as you would a thesis paper.

Corporate trainer uses online degree to get creative with her career

Amanda Haddaway went from working as a corporate trainer to becoming an author and philanthropist. After earning an online master’s degree in education, Amanda went on to write the book “Destination Real World: Success after Graduation” and co-founded Cocktails for a Cause, an organization she started with two friends to benefit local charities.

What inspired you to head back to school?

I was a corporate trainer for an IT consulting firm and I was traveling extensively to our offices throughout the country. My boss (and mentor) saw an ad for the educational technology leadership program at George Washington University. She knew that I was interested in pursuing a graduate degree and thought that the program might be a good fit. I really liked that the program was comprised of three subject areas: technology, leadership and education/training. All three were areas of interest and subjects that I taught as a corporate trainer.

What made you decide to earn an education degree online as opposed to on campus?

I needed a program that worked into my life and not a program that required making adjustments to my existing travel schedule for work. Although I was living approximately 30 minutes from campus, I often needed to do my schoolwork from other cities due to the travel demands of my job. The beauty of online learning is that you can be anywhere at any time and still have the experience of community. We had students who were living internationally because of their jobs, and they were still able to effectively participate in the online discussions and assignments.

What were the benefits of studying for a master of arts in education online?

We were able to have firsthand experience with educational technology as a part of our learning. George Washington University used Blackboard to host and facilitate the learning process. We also used video for some lectures and class assignments.

Additionally, we had a very diverse student body. There were students from the K-12 teaching environment, as well as trainers like me and other people who were interested and involved in the field of education. The students were from all over the country and a few lived internationally.

How did your interactions with professors and other students happen online? Any surprises?

I have to admit that I was a little skeptical on how this was all going to work, but I forged some online friendships that I still maintain today. Technology really can be a great connector!

There were a few collaborative projects and I emailed with classmates as well as used a wiki to work collaboratively on an assignment. I had one phone conversation with a professor for an educational policy class.

What did a typical day look like while you were going to school online?

Since I was working full-time and traveling a good bit, my time was limited so I tried to do a little each day. I would try to log in to Blackboard a few times a day in my spare time — once before work, at lunchtime (if time permitted) and after work in the evenings.

The rigor of an online course is equivalent, if not more so, than a traditional “brick and mortar” class. For many courses, our mastery of topics was tested through our weekly writing assignments.

Tell us about Cocktails for a Cause

Cocktails for a Cause is a nonprofit organization that I co-founded with two friends to help other area nonprofits with fundraising and marketing. We hosted our first event in November for Heartly House, a shelter for abused women and children, and raised more than $1,200. The $15 admission fee included the attendee’s first drink, and the remainder of the money went to the beneficiary organization. Cocktails for a Cause doesn’t take a cut of the money outside of the event expenses. Our next event will be in March for Hospice’s Camp Jamie, a camp that helps children who have recently lost a parent to a terminal illness.

When did you decide to write a book?

I’ve been freelance writing for a few years and it was one of those “bucket list” items. Every book starts with one page, so I just started writing all the questions that I had been asked repeatedly during my years as a college recruiter. I sought out other professionals to help write some of the sections and about seven months later, the book is now available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble’s website.

What advice would you give those considering an online degree in education?

Be honest with yourself about your personal study habits and time management skills. I am a firm believer that online education isn’t for everyone, but it was great for me. Online learning, in my opinion, requires more self-discipline than a traditional classroom program.