In the Fall of 1993 I started my college education at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). My first semester was an English course and Sociology course. I left school in Spring of 1999 after having taken a series of Psychology and Social Services courses such as “Introduction to Abnormal Psychology” and “Skills and Methods in Human Services”. Those two courses were probably the most important ones I took at HACC.
During the next 15 years, life happened. I moved to New York City to work in the music industry. I ended up doing that plus working at a Fortune 100 Financial Services company full time. Eventually I moved to Nashville, TN where I did community outreach and legally adopted a daughter. I also spent a substantial amount of time in Los Angeles working with the homeless on a volunteer basis.
By Spring of 2014 I decided to go back to school and finish my associates degree at Harrisburg Area Community College. I was able to complete the degree online, earning an associates in General Studies. In 2015 I transitioned to Penn State to pursue a bachelors degree. I transferred there because of name recognition and the credit transfer.
As I was beginning my coursework at Penn State, my daughter took a job at our church and I had to transport her several times a week. As we didn’t live close, I ended up doing a lot of school work at the local Wendys. I’d sit there for 3-4 hours at a time with my computer, textbooks, and wifi. I particularly remember studying “Latin American History” and appreciating the point of view of historical events from another perspective. I also communicated via email with the author of the text the course used. The author is an instructor at nearby Vanderbilt University.
In the Spring of 2019 I began the final course load to complete my BS in Integrated Social Sciences. I took “Adolescent Abnormal Psychology” and “Introduction to Web Design” as my final courses. I found it was good to learn what had changed from abnormal psychology in the last 25 years. I also found I learned about alot of the “why’s” of web design, namely why website videos are so finicky on the Iphone.
During my final year as a whole I ended up ‘effectively homeless’ having to set up shop in the Motel 6 while my belongings were in storage and my cats were in an air conditioned camper for 6 weeks. Life happens during school regardless of being on campus or taking courses online.
A few things I learned about taking classes online:
- It takes a lot of discipline. You have to manage your own schedule and meet midweek and end-of-week deadlines.
- A tablet is your best friend. You can download PDF’s from assigned readings and in many cases, buy digital versions of your text books. This makes it possible to get school reading done before church, in the waiting room, or even while waiting for appetizers to show up at your favorite eating spot.
- Sometimes you need to take the initiative to get some hands on learning. During an astronomy class at Harrisburg Area Community College, I actually went out to Astronomy night at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville to look through telescopes and learn to view some things that I had studied. For Spanish I would put in the Spanish interpreter headset at my church and listen to a service in Spanish as well as engage Spanish speaking members of my congregation.
- A tutor is also your best friend. I had help in Spanish from a friend and a paid tutor. I made sure my tutor had access to my text each week and it proved to be very beneficial. I also sought tutoring sessions from Dr. Brian Miller, Ph.D for 3 semesters of Statistics and 1 research methods course. He also assisted with certain Astronomy related questions. I also sought help from the amazing Derek Schujahn for my second go-round at Philosophy.
- Going to school online with a university or community college that exists in the real world is helpful since many courses are also taught in the classroom. For me at least, it validates that you are getting the same value on-campus students get.
- Finally, going to school online gives you a classroom with students from all over the world. I’ve found I have to reframe some of my responses in discussion forums to account for the fact that my classmates may be in India, the UK, South Africa, or anywhere else in the world.
It’s been a long road, 4 years since my initial re-entry into education. My student loans total $66,000 and my education stretches nearly 25 years. A very long road has been travelled during which time life itself happened. But…it’s done!