Students who take online courses face unique challenges. Often they're juggling a full-time career, family, and the reality of being phyiscally removed from their home campus. But they have consistently proven to be a highly motivated, goal-oriented class of achievers. Here are just a few of their stories.
Brandon McNellis, the 2015 College of Continuing Education Commencement student speaker, always knew he wanted to pursue a degree in business, but until the end of his sophomore year, he wasn’t sure of a specific direction. He chose Manufacturing Operations Management (MM) because he saw that this degree would give him a broad preparation for the many areas of business that interest him. The applied nature of the degree gave him real-world relevancy, and the flexibility of it allowed him to pursue a focus on supply chain management.
He’ll be putting his talents to work immediately following graduation, working for an import distribution company of custom-engineered components in a dual role of supply chain analyst and manufacturer’s sales representative.
How do you see yourself having an impact on the world?
By sharing my knowledge, and using what I know to help others. I’ve found my true passion and could not be more excited for the industry I am about to be entering. I will be making a direct positive impact on many different levels within my career, and I look forward to the day that I am able to help others looking to get the same out of life!
How has your education helped to prepare you?
My education directly prepared me for my career. Everything I learned on an educational basis, along with the professional and networking skills I gained, will [come into play]. And, of course, the relationships I have built here—and plan to maintain—have set me up for the future, as well.
What’s most exciting about graduating?
That the best is still yet to come! These past four years have absolutely been the best of my life, and have gone by faster than I could ever imagine. If they are any indication as to how my future will be, I absolutely cannot wait to [start that journey]. Being able to be in a career as a business professional, directly applying what I’ve learned these past few years, is priceless. I will actually be able to take the things I have spent so much time on to learn and retain and use them to excel in my career.
Did anything about your College experience surprise you?
The biggest (pleasant) surprise was in the value of networking; in how being able to meet people and build a relationship with them on a personal level can make you that much more successful in life. I have always been a very outgoing and energetic person, and in college, I used that to my advantage—I tried to meet as many people as possible, and I hope to retain my relationships with them, as I’ve had the chance to learn from and work with “the best of the best.”
I put hard work into my education and studies, and received my degree… And I was able to network and connect with people and make relationships I will keep for the rest of my life. Those are both great things to take away!
When senior Jill Lucas, Dodge Center, MN, began her online degree, she already had a two-year degree in radiology from Riverland Community College in Austin, MN. Following her graduation from Riverland, she went to work for Immanuel St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mankato, MN, and a year later moved to a new position in the radiology department at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, where she has worked for the past 13 years.
A mother of 8-year-old twins, Lucas had planned for some time to earn a bachelor’s degree. She even worked on classes two nights a week offered locally through
Augsburg College, Minneapolis, MN. But, she found that physically being away from her young children, who were only toddlers at the time, was just too difficult.
The expression "small campus," might refer to the physical size of the University of Minnesota, Crookston. But for online students, the words "small campus" take on a different meaning. The campus can be located at the kitchen table or a favorite chair in the living room, and it may be across town or across the world.
For 2011 graduate Joe Cretesio, the Crookston campus means a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and a chance to dream. "When you wake up in the morning, you need to have dreams," Cretesio says. "And you need to remember that age is not a prerequisite to attaining a quality education."
His positive attitude has carried him through life even when the going was rough. He attended the Palompon Institute of Technology in the Philippines where he earned a bachelor of science in marine transportation. In 1989 he moved to California where he worked for Toyota Logistic Services, Asyst Technologies, and KLA-Tencor Corporation, where he worked as a test engineer and was promoted to a field service engineer.
His work took him all over the world, including countries in Asia and Europe, and across the United States. Life took what seemed to be the worst possible turn for Cretesio in 2008, when he was laid off from his job and his marriage ended. He moved to Minnesota with his two children and began working at a printing company as a helper for $8 an hour. "At that time, I did not think about what had been in my past; instead, I was consumed with how we were going to survive from day to day," Cretesio reflects.
He decided he needed to move his family closer to Minneapolis, and in spite of the recession he was hired by a pharmaceutical company as a pharmaceutical manufacturing technician in Eden Prairie. After years of working in the semiconductor industry, Cretesio found himself in a completely new line of work.
Never afraid of a challenge, Cretesio decided he wanted to go back to school and discovered the University of Minnesota offers degree programs online. The bachelor of manufacturing management seemed like a perfect fit, and he was pleased that he could earn a U of M degree. "The people that I worked with at Crookston were so helpful, and I had the support l needed to make the transition to life working full time and attending c1ass," he admits.
He was able to transfer in credits and began working on his degree in fall 2010 and, two years later, found himself at commencement on the campus to which he had been only virtually connected. He praises the help he received from Christo Robberts, who served as his advisor and taught his favorite class: quality management.
"The class in quality management will serve me no matter where I go or what I do," Cretesio says. "It is like a guide and a teacher for me in any path I might follow."
His personal situation changed as well, when he remarried and recruited his wife, Rocben, to pursue a degree online. He understands the life of a working , full-time student, so he is at the ready to give his wife the encouragement and support she needs.
Last October, Cretesio was hired by a biotech company in Chaska as an advanced production technician and is enjoying his new career.
His resume and transcript don't say it, but Cretesio strongly endorses lifelong learning and, one would suspect, this grad will never stop dreaming and reaching to achieve.
Do you ever wonder how Target develops its specialty-brand foods from Market Pantry, Archer Farms, and Simply Balanced? It often begins with the expertise of people like Multidisciplinary Studies student Stefanie Lefebvre.
Lefebvre, a product development scientist at Target who also writes preparation directions, recipes, and serving suggestions for both product packaging and Target.com, combined her interests in food science, sociology, and marketing to create a “big-picture degree, with just the right amount of detail.”
“The MdS program maximizes class versatility via the intercollegiate areas of studies to better meet student needs,” she says. “It is a networked study program that intertwines distinct focus areas… Because of this, I am respected at work not only for my food-science knowledge, but also for my marketing and sociology expertise.”
So how do all these disparate fields of study come together to put products on the shelves? “I start by considering who the consumer is and the ‘why they buy’ factor. I then begin in-depth research to better understand the customer demographic. From there, I work with vendors in the development of the products.”
Whether kitchen chemistry or consumer behavior, Lefebvre found coursework that met her specific interests and goals while still working full-time. “When [people] ask about my educational background (which also includes a two-year AAS degree in Culinary Arts), I’m proud to tell them that I’m finishing an MdS degree from the U of M... Their responses are [all] nearly the same: ‘Overachiever!’ I love it!”
It has been a more than a year since senior Alisha Hailstorm, Maple Grove, MN, began pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. But it wasn’t until last July that she actually took her first step on the campus. The business management major is earning her degree entirely online. In fact, she is on track to graduate in May 2012 with a business degree that includes a minor in marketing.
Her trip to campus happened thanks to a bit of serendipity on a gorgeous day in July. “My husband and I were spending the weekend of July 4 in Detroit Lakes, and it worked for us to make a trip to Crookston to see where I was going to school,” she recalls.
Hillstrom holds an associate of arts degree from North Hennepin Community College and wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree but was unsure about where to go. “I am from Minnesota, so naturally, I checked out the University of Minnesota’s website,” she says. “I found the degree I wanted entirely online through the Crookston campus, and I was immediately interested.”
Read the rest of Alisha's story.
- Jessica Unkelhauser, ARMHS worker, Fond du Lac Behavioral Health Services. She plans to pursue her clinical license and further her practice in child welfare and mental health fields.
- Sheng Xiong, career counselor, Goodwill Easter Seals in St. Paul working with clients through the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP).
- Courtney Rauschenbach, child protection social worker, Bayfield County Human Services. She plans to continue her work related to trauma-informed practice with families and children.
- Ariane Norrgard, mental health counselor, Minnoayawin Clinic. She will continue her research in climate change and social work, along with work as a social change agent for her community through the arts.
- Lexi Generous, violence intervention and prevention coordinator, the College of St. Scholastica. She plans to become a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker.
- Sarah Markert, social worker, Beltrami County Health and Human Services in Child Protection. She is interested in adoption work and also teaching social work in the future.
- Crystal Mullen, licensed alcohol and drug counselor, Haven Chemical Health Systems in Cloquet, MN. She plans to go into clinical work and pursue her LICSW.
- Karly Katchmark, advanced generalist, Kindred Family Focus working with adoption, licensing, and case management. She plans to continue working within the child welfare sector.
- Allan Lamb, ethnographer, Essentia Institute of Rural Health, exploring the nature of team-based care and patient involvement in ICU settings at Essentia Health. Allan will also be exploring clinical social work opportunities within the Duluth area.
To read more alumni profiles, visit the program website.
After working as a registered nurse on the solid organ transplant floor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for more than six years, Melissa Bitz decided it was time to advance her education.
“As I started looking at nursing graduate school programs, it appeared to me that the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree was the degree that everyone was changing to, so I decided to get the DNP degree instead of the master’s degree so that I wouldn't have to go back later,” says Bitz. “Better to do it all at once.”
Bitz looked into several schools, but eventually chose the University of Minnesota because of the flexibility that the School of Nursing offered. “I work full-time and the online program allows me to be able to do the reading and homework each week at whatever time is convenient for me."
In addition, the University’s reputation was a draw. “I wanted to attend a school and be confident of the education I was receiving."
She chose the adult health/gerontological clinical nurse specialist specialty. “I was drawn to the clinical nurse specialist role because I wanted to make a difference in patient outcomes and quality of care. This role will allow me to perform patient care, impact patients’ lives, and lead quality improvement.”
“I feel that the professors really care about each student," Bitz continues. "They want to see you learn and be successful. They listen to you. You are not just a number or ‘another student'.”
Mark Romportl’s work at a camp for children with diabetes has had a lifelong effect on him. “It solidified my compassion for patients with endocrine disorders,” he said. That compassion—and desire to help improve the lives of those living with endocrine disorders—led him to his current position at an adult endocrinology clinic. There, he works with patients to help them better understand how to live with their conditions, from diabetes to thyroid disease to growth disorders.
While he enjoys providing one-on-one care, he found himself appreciating the population perspective as he completed his undergraduate studies in nursing. During his studies, he connected with a professor who was conducting research about Hmong community members’ views on exercise, as there were higher rates of diabetes within that population. This population-based approach resonated with Romportl, who hopes to continue that level of work.
He is seeking a DNP degree, with a family nurse practitioner specialty, to better help patients live well. He sought the degree, he said, because he wanted to expand his scope and have prescriptive authority. “I wanted to be surrounded by students who were wholeheartedly invested in their work,” said Romportl. “Their experiences are broad and their viewpoints are broad. They are leaders.”
As a nurse, Teri Verner saw the benefits of less-invasive, more natural approaches to improving the health of patients, but after more than 20 years of providing care in long-term and home-care settings, it became clear to her that the medical system was focused on disease management rather than health care. “I understood the mind-body connection and the amazing ability the body has to maintain health if given the right tools,” said Verner. “I was interested in learning more about incorporating these tools into the health care system to work toward achieving optimal health.”
Verner looked to the University of Minnesota School of Nursing for that education because it was the only doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program to have an integrative health and healing specialty area. She applied to the program because she felt that in order to change the health care system she needed to learn more about research and evidence-based practice, as well how to implement change in a way that was meaningful and sustainable.
The course work developed her skills in statistics, research, program development and evaluation, leadership and innovation, and policy. “The specialty course work taught me about self-awareness, engagement, and the importance of mindfulness,” said Verner. “As a student, I was nurtured, challenged, and stretched in ways I never have before in my academic career.”
A particularly meaningful learning experience occurred during a session in Hawaii where she studied Reiki, aromatherapy, acupressure, and indigenous Hawaiian healing in the big island surroundings. “This was an opportunity for much of our cohort to bond in a way that would not have been possible with traditional learning in the classroom or online,” said Verner.
After graduating in 2012, she accepted the position of program manager at Hennepin County Medical Center’s Alternative Medicine Clinic. In addition to managing the clinic, she is responsible for the strategic direction of the alternative medicine program within the Hennepin Health System. “I am excited to be involved in the transformation of the delivery of care and be a witness to the impacts this change is having on patients’ health and well-being,” said Verner.
She credited her education at the School of Nursing for giving her the skills needed to see everything within its system and recognize connections. “The DNP program in integrative health and healing created a space for significant personal growth and self-awareness and has opened my mind to a different way of thinking,” said Verner. “I feel as though I am more innovative and willing to try more creative approaches to solve problems and improve systems.”
After receiving her doctor of nursing practice degree in midwifery, Meg Workman moved to Aitkin, MN, to provide health care to women living in the northern Minnesota town of 2,200 people. “I have always imagined myself practicing midwifery in a small community,” said Workman.
Workman approached the hospital, which hadn’t previously employed a nurse-midwife, to explain how midwifery fit into the hospital’s mission. The approach led to her being offered a position. “As a midwife I partner with women through their lifetime to achieve their optimal health. Patients can expect holistic care, which incorporates scientific evidence into clinical practice,” said Workman.
The environment in a rural hospital puts her in a dramatically different setting than her clinical experience at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, Riverside Campus in the heart of Minneapolis. “I feel very well equipped to handle a wide variety of situations that may arise due to women’s personal needs, desires, cultural needs or family situations,” said Workman.
Workman said she never dreamed she’d be a nurse-midwife when she received her bachelor’s degree in nursing. After getting her degree, she accepted a position as a labor and delivery nurse at a hospital in Illinois. The work resonated with her. “I could relate to everything going on there,” says Workman, now a mother of four.
She enrolled in the University of Minnesota DNP program because she desired more patient contact. “I knew I wanted more, that I wanted to expand my career. I wanted to see women for the full spectrum of their lives,” says Workman, about why she wanted to become a nurse-midwife. “It’s an awesome responsibility. You’re responsible for patients in a different way. To go through that transition is pretty profound.”