“At 18 or 19, I really didn’t know what I wanted to study,” says Claire Parks. “I did a year or two of college but couldn’t decide on a major.” Instead of completing a degree, Parks joined the 9-to-5 work world; but after 15 years in software support, she decided to go back to school. While still working full time, she enrolled at IU Online. Two years and a summer later, she earned her BS in Psychology with a minor in criminal justice.
Parks has nothing but praise for the online experience. Her advisor Liz Ferris made IU Online seem personal and accessible. “IU Online offered so many resources, so many personal contacts, all at my fingertips. Even though I was going to school online, I felt I was part of the bigger context of Indiana University. IU Online was there for me at graduation, as well, with a class on conducting a job search, creating a professional resume, and looking for jobs. Everything was so timely.”
Classes were personal—there was no chance for isolation. Many began with a “get-to-know-you” session where students shared personal history. Parks says, “I felt I was constantly interacting with everyone. As you continue to take courses, you get to know your fellow online students, wherever they are.”
Being among other non-traditional students deepened the learning experience. Parks’s classmates spanned the spectrum from teenage sophomores to older students going back to finish their degrees or advance their careers. Parks says, “Thanks to this diversity, I learned how things work on the ground. People working in psychology talked about their experiences with kids with autism or addictions. This great mix of backgrounds and levels of knowledge made the discussions especially rich.”
Learning was very interactive, with discussion boards, videos, and regular contact with professors. Parks points to psychology professor Eevett Loshek as someone who was inspiring, helpful, and accessible. “She was my faculty mentor for my honors thesis and went out of her way to meet with me on campus during a holiday weekend,” says Parks. Another professor, who worked a second job as a police officer, held a two-hour Zoom meeting with the class after pulling a 16-hour shift. His real-life experiences provided a vivid dimension to the class’s perception of life as a police officer on the street.
Balancing a career and a full course load took some strategizing. “It was critical to do something every day,” Parks says. “Weekdays after work, I did the reading, completed homework, and took short quizzes. I saved weekends for longer projects like listening to lectures and writing papers. I wrote lots of papers.” Her commitment paid off. She now foresees a future in psychology and plans to make an MS in Psychology her next step.
Thanks to IU Online, says Parks, “I’ve developed an interest in lifelong learning. As technology continues to improve and more professors come on board, online learning gets better and better. Being able to work on my own time greatly lessened my anxiety about managing work and school. Sometimes we don’t know enough about ourselves at 18 or 19. Online learning offers a solution for those who figure out later in life where their real interests lie.”