gurneyA growing number of on-campus graduates earn advanced degrees online from Saint Joseph's.

Like many Saint Joseph’s graduates, Jessica Arsenault Gurney crossed the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2005 with hope, a happy heart, and a bit of sadness, too.

“When I left St. Joe’s, it was very bittersweet,” Gurney explains. “I really loved it there.” Fully immersed in campus life, Gurney taught water aerobics, was instrumental in the future teacher’s organization, and received the Student Teaching Award. When she returned one year later to share her first-year teaching experiences with other Saint Joseph’s students, she was struck by a revelation.

“I knew that day I would go back to Saint Joseph’s for my master’s degree,” Gurney says. “I was just so happy with my experience as an undergrad, there was really no other choice for me.”

Gurney is one of a growing number of alumni who return to Saint Joseph’s to pursue a graduate degree through the distance learning program. The flexibility in scheduling work and class hours is a big attraction for many who maintain a full-time career while working toward an advanced degree.

“The classroom is open 24/7, and I can come and go as my schedule allows as long as I’m participating regularly,” says Chris Palmer, ’88/’08. His choice for an MBA graduate school was made easier due to his familiarity with the Saint Joseph’s community. “I knew many of the faculty and saw how they interacted with students.”

Joe Gallagher ’84/’08 liked the variety of course structures in the MBA curriculum, such as a 10-week online term or a five-week online term that included an extended summer weekend on campus.

“The flexibility to adjust my work schedule around classes made it easier to balance family, work, and school,” he says. And although Gallagher admits he had to improve his computer skills to be successful in the online program, he notes that professors were very helpful.

“The professors were superb,” Gallagher says. “They did great postings, spent a lot of time grading papers, and would hold phone conferences if needed.”

While the computer aspect of distance learning challenges some students, others find it difficult to express themselves in an exclusively electronic environment. “It was hard to show just in my writing what kind of a student I was to my professors,” says A.J. (Amanda) Ruth ’03/’09. A new blogging component has been added to some online classes, which allows for more interaction with the professor as well as with other students. Ruth notes that to be successful in the program, a student needs to be self-motivated, disciplined, and organized.

Gurney took a proactive approach to developing the student/professor relationship by sending each professor a summary of herself prior to the first class.

“I’d tell the professor that I’m a new mom, a kindergarten teacher, and what I wanted to get out of the class,” she explains. “I never doubted that I was getting the most out of every class online.” Gurney also took a combination of online classes as well as those offered on campus. For courses in which she wanted to see an instructor face-to-face, Gurney chose courses taught on campus in the summer. The program’s flexibility helped Gurney choose the classes that fit her lifestyle and schedule.

“I’ve always wanted to be the best mom I could be and the best kindergarten teacher I could be,” she says. “And the Saint Joseph’s program allowed me to do just that.”