Why did you decide to pursue your degree, and ultimately what led you to choose Champlain College?
I started my academic journey at 18 years old at the Community College of Vermont (CCV). But life happens and I had to leave to go work full-time. I always knew I wanted to go back to school, especially because throughout my career I found that a lot of places, especially in the private sector, want you to have a bachelor’s degree or a professional certificate.
I was outside at work one day and a coworker said, “Have you heard about Champlain College’s truED program? You should look into it. There’s a webinar today.” I joined and I knew right away I wanted to be a part of it. There was obviously a big financial advantage because my employer is a truED partner (meaning we get discounted tuition rates) plus they offer tuition assistance. truED is a great advantage.
I got my bachelor’s degree in Integrated Studies and along the way I earned a Human Resource Management certificate, a Project Management certificate, and an Organizational Development certificate. I got those out of the way and then finished the rest of the degree. It made me feel like I was accomplishing things along the way and that kept me going. And it makes you a more competitive applicant and can address things listed in job postings.
What, in your view, makes Champlain unique?
I have had other college experiences, and what makes Champlain College Online unique is that I always felt like I was a priority - my advisor, Janet, always made me feel like I was the most important thing on her plate when she was talking to me. I can’t express how much I appreciate that.
At one point I had a lot going on, I had pneumonia, and my professor was very accommodating with deadlines and assignments. Two times I had to ask for an extra day to get something in because emergencies came up, and the instructors were great about that. Overall, they were really responsive and present. If you don’t ask, they won’t know - so ask!
You have to take an active role in your education. That’s how you’ll be successful. Nobody will do it for you, but the support from Champlain was just amazing. That’s what’s unique about the experience - it feels like it’s small and personal. And because I’m local and campus isn’t that far away, it feels like home.
How did you make online learning work for you?
Online learning can be a scary world at first, it’s all new, and a new way of learning. But in the end, it was maybe even better than an actual classroom. When you’re not in a classroom, you have to be very disciplined. I was used to teleworking for my job, so that helped to give me the skills to eliminate distractions, and I was able to share some of that experience and advice with my classmates. It’s just a matter of discipline. You have to find what works for you. Classes started on Sunday, and I always took Monday off to give myself a much-needed break. I saved exams and big assignments for the weekends. You have to really participate in the discussion boards, not just post your three posts and be done.
I typically work a 40 to 50 hour week. I had incredible support from my partner and my family. They knew how much work it would be before I started and supported me through it, and they understood the time commitment involved. They knew that for 7 weeks, I wouldn’t be vacuuming weekly, doing the dishes, making dinner - I would come home, maybe talk a little bit and throw something together for dinner, then work until 8 or 8:30 and go to bed. Then the day would start again. Everything else in my life was sacrificed - a lot was put on hold, but it was worth it in the end. Just being disciplined and having that support was a lot of where success comes from. It’s all about how you manage it. If you procrastinate, you won’t do as well.
Did you find your degree program relevant to your work life? Did it help you move forward in your career?
My focus in my degree program was on management behavior. My career has been spent in labor and employee relations. So through the first half of my program, a lot of what I was doing, I had experience in. But the way I looked at it, if you go to a training course, you’re going to enhance your skills and be a better-developed employee. And that’s how I looked at all my courses. I tried to find what I was missing and what I’d forgotten over time.
What was the online classroom experience like?
It was nice to have a diverse group of people of different ages and locations. They all brought something to the classroom. Younger people bring an enthusiasm that ripples into other people. It was great to hear about other people’s experiences, and interesting to hear how other people have handled things and worked through things.
I was pleasantly surprised by the online environment. When I started, I thought, “How’s it going to work? I’m at home, not having a conversation.” But very quickly, you realize you’re having conversations. Instructors start you out and you begin to realize you have connections, you have things in common.
What advice would you have for working adults considering Champlain College’s online degree programs?
My advice is, if you’re nervous about starting, just take your time, take one course, something you’ll enjoy, and ease into it. I just finished telling someone, don’t burn yourself out. It can happen easily. I’m an overachiever and I’m happier when there’s a lot on my plate. But I had to remind myself, don’t get crazy, there’s time. Save the more difficult courses for later, when you’re used to it. And save some fun classes for the end when you’re getting tired. Focus on where you are. It’s easy to lose your depth perception and check out when you’re close to being done.
Ask questions. Reach out to your advisor, your instructors, your classmates. It’s so important to communicate. It can be very easy to believe you’re on an island if you’re not communicating. Like in any classroom, you’re all in the same boat. Know when you need a break and can’t take in more information. Walk away for a few minutes!
It was all worth it - I don’t care how old you get, if you have a goal and a dream you need to pursue that. Sometimes things happen in life that are just hiccups along the way. We encounter little obstacles that make you think you’ll never get there. And here I am at 50 years old. I finished it! You should never stop pursuing that sense of accomplishment.
Lisa Wells received her online bachelor's in Integrated Studies from Champlain in 2017.
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