Online graduates meet classmates, faculty for first time

An annual tradition the morning of graduation brought together students from across the country.

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There were a lot of emotional moments as seven distance learners from around the country met face-to-face for the first time during Erikson’s annual brunch for online Master of Science in Early Childhood Education program graduates.

“Seeing you today is blowing my mind,” said Sarah Williams, who traveled to Chicago from Nashville with her family.
But it wasn’t just the students who met for the first time. Faculty who only knew their students through virtual conversations relished the real-life interaction.

“To see each other in person, it’s powerful,” said Gillian McNamee, PhD, professor and director of teacher education at Erikson. “I’ve been actually touching people as I meet them.”

Students from New Mexico, Iowa, Tennessee, and beyond shared their stories as distance learners in Erikson’s program. Tears flowed as the students, many with their families, talked of sacrifice, dedication, and challenges.

Jen Baker of Chicago, whose mother joined her from Michigan, cried as she thanked her “awesome” husband for the support he provided during her 28 months in the online program. Lindsay Moulton, whose mother, Lisa, received her online degree, expressed pride in her mother’s accomplishment.

“For 19 years, my mom has pushed me,” said Moulton. “These last three years she has sat at the dining room table studying online, just enjoying every second of it.”

Students talked about the camaraderie that formed online among the group and the support they received virtually from both classmates and faculty.

Chip Donohue, PhD, dean of Distance Learning and Continuing Education, noted that faculty and staff are especially rewarded as part of the program, too.

“The teaching and learning flows both ways.”