Natalie Jackson never thought that getting an online graduate degree would be for her. But now, she feels like she found her place.
Natalie is currently pursuing her MPH in the Executive Public Health Administration and Policy (EPHAP) program, while simultaneously working full-time and raising a family.
Did we mention she’s doing all this while living in Zambia?
Off to Africa
Natalie grew up in Minnesota and got her undergraduate degree in Wisconsin. But after a study abroad year in Senegal, West Africa, she fell in love with the continent’s people and cultures. So, after finishing undergrad, she joined the Peace Corps in Zambia, then decided to pursue a public health career on the continent.
Since then, Natalie has lived and worked all over Africa working for women’s human rights, girls’ education, and adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. Today, she is settled in Lusaka, Zambia, where she is married and raising her three children.
Having worked so long in public health with only a bachelor’s degree, Natalie always felt she needed to go back to school to help advance her career, but she never felt like it was the right time given her family, location, and busy professional life.
“My jobs have always been intense and on-the-move, so adding school on top of work never seemed like an option,” she says. “And then I started having kids, and I felt like I couldn't work, have kids, AND go to school.”
Is Online the Answer?
Early on, Natalie sensed that an online degree might be right for her situation, but she was never sure. Having had the traditional college experience, she had loved being in class, talking with classmates, and participating in discussions. She thought online learning wouldn’t be the same: it would be unengaging and she wouldn’t get to know her professors or classmates. Natalie fought the idea of doing an online degree for a long time.
However, after talking with her husband, who got his MBA online, she was finally encouraged to take the leap.
Now, after almost one year in the Executive Public Health Administration and Policy MPH program, Natalie’s expectations have been entirely disproved. “It is so much more interactive than I ever expected,” she says. “And I never expected to have the level of engagement I've had with my professors and my TAs.”
“It is so much more interactive than I ever expected. I never expected to have the level of engagement I've had with my professors and my TAs.”
Even though the program is online, Natalie has found incredible support within her program. She has connected with other students in her cohort during in-person sessions on campus twice a year, and she has been able to continue her relationship with them online. Her advisors and professors have been very supportive and helpful in making the program work for her and her circumstances.
Additionally, her curriculum is extremely relevant to her career and current job. Despite having years of experience in the field, Natalie still feels she’s learning something new every week. “The program has given me an opportunity to dive deeply into the heart of issues that I wouldn't have a chance to in the workplace,” she says. “I think that is such a fantastic opportunity.”
Anyone Can Do It
Natalie’s school work has been challenging, especially trying to balance work, family, and school. And because of her location in Zambia, she has even had to come up with some creative work-arounds when she didn’t have electricity or internet and still needed to submit assignments. Regardless of whether she was traveling in Mozambique or rural Zambia, or the power was out in her home, she had to get her assignments in.
But Natalie thinks that anybody who wants to go back to school online can do it, even if their situation isn’t as extreme as her own. “It's going to be tough and you'll have moments where you'll wonder if you did the right thing, but it's worth it,” she says. “It's going to open doors and expand your mind in ways you never thought.”