Haley Harris has a full-time job at a community college in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. She holds an undergraduate degree in business from Th e W, and she wants to earn her master's. A new online degree program launched by The W last summer offered her the chance to reach her goal.
"I graduated from The W, so I knew the professors and I knew I would get a quality education," she said. "I'm familiar with the online learning environment, and it appealed to me."
She's taking nine credit hours—considered a full graduate load—while also working. "I usually do my classwork at night," she said, adding that she hopes to finish the graduate degree by next fall.
The new master's degree program in global commerce will prepare graduates to work in their local communities with the growing number of international companies in the region, said Dr. Scott Tollison, dean of the College of Business and Professional Studies. The inaugural class has nine students from Mississippi and Tennessee.
"It's designed to be multidisciplinary," Tollison explained. "Students get exposure to international law, cross-cultural management, global marketing, software solutions, telecommunications and other subjects." One area he's particularly proud of is environmental sustainability. "Students need to understand their carbon footprint," he said.
Graduate faculty in the college teach in the program, which also requires that students select one country of primary focus.
"In every course, they have a project that relates to their declared country," explained Dr. Marty Brock, chair of business. "It goes into their portfolio, and they complete the program with a capstone portfolio presented by video to faculty members."
Not only does the project-based approach give students content that's real, she said, "it also gives them something they can take to an employer. It makes them more marketable."
Dr. Dee Larson, graduate coordinator and professor of marketing, said that the new online program offers an opportunity to evolve up-to-the-minute content and present it in an innovative format. The spring semester, for instance, she is using a marketing simulation software in two courses.
"Students use the program to simulate product and brand development as well as global marketing management," she said. "Simulation games offer students a hands-on experience. In this 'learn by doing' approach users compete against other firms, simulated by the computer, and make marketing and business decisions. It is a fun and highly interactive way to learn."
Harris, who is focusing on Italy in her studies, said that the different business culture appealed to her. "I especially wanted to contrast it with ours," she said. Her goal is to continue her studies at the doctoral level and teach at a university.
Savannah Tubbs of Pascagoula, a 23-year-old 2012 W graduate, also is among the inaugural class. "Having this degree, especially from such a prestigious university, will help me gain that 'something extra' against my competitors," she said of the increasingly global job market.
Like Harris, Tubbs holds a full-time job while taking a full graduate course load. "Shifting from an in-class schedule to online is a big adjustment," she said. "However, I could not imagine going through this program any other way." Choosing to focus on the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, she also is contrasting commerce in her native and her selected countries.
"I am on track to complete the degree in August," she said. Both students said they're enjoying the opportunity to expand their cultural and business horizons by learning aspects of their countries such as work attire and lunch etiquette, as well as the economy and financial climates. "The work is project-based, and the projects are interesting," Harris said.
For non-business majors, the program offers the option of taking all required prerequisites in one semester, the professors said. "We also can accommodate part-time students," Brock said, "and students can enroll in the fall, spring or summer. We're finding these options appeal to many
students who are learning about our global commerce master's degree."
Technical degrees welcome
Aaron Brooks, who works at nearby East Mississippi Community College, held a two-year technical degree that had given him skills for his position as district director of administrative computing and systems representative. But in order to advance, he knew he'd need additional education.
"I'm already in a management position, and my supervisor encouraged me to further my education," he said.
He looked around and weighed the options. Because he lives in Lowndes County, he could get tuition benefits at The W. And, as an additional incentive, he could earn a degree completely online in a program that would accept his technical credits. The choice was simple: he enrolled in the bachelor of technology in professional studies degree program last fall.
"Our program is unique," explained Dean Scott Tollison."There are few opportunities nationally for career/technical students to pursue bachelor's degrees without surrendering huge amounts of course credit." The program has attracted students from as far away as Delaware.
For students enrolling, the B.T. degree offers concentrations in areas that include entrepreneurship, general business, human resources management, legal administration and management information systems. Allowing students to transfer up to 43 hours of technical/career credit, the B.T. requires a total of 124 course hours. Brooks, who is taking 12 hours in his first semester, hopes to complete the degree in 2015.
"Everything I'm learning will contribute to my job," he said. "It's all pertinent to my work." His wife, Tonya, who earlier had completed the program, is now pursuing an online master's degree through another university, and they are so impressed they're encouraging their daughter to attend The W.
From Delaware, nearly 800 miles from The W, first semester student Elissa Troise-Greco says she's "very pleased" with her curriculum and her professors. "I've learned a lot," she said. With a two-year degree in entrepreneurship from Delaware Technical and Community College in Dover, Del., she now is pursuing the general business concentration in the B.T. program.
Troise-Greco and her husband own a home improvement business and she said "I'm used to working for myself." But her ultimate goal is to continue her education and earn a doctorate. Last fall, during her first semester, she took courses that included principles of management, principles of marketing, arts entrepreneurship and personal and community health. "It's a good curriculum," she said.
As she studies, she also holds onto a goal of completing a book that she has begun. Her early life was difficult, and she found herself sinking further and further into trouble. "I want to tell my story," she said. "I would like for young people especially to know that there is hope."
Troise-Greco, despite a rocky beginning, became student government president at Delaware Technical and Community College and was named to the Phi Theta Kappa All-Academic Team. "That led to my getting a scholarship to The W," she said. "I am very grateful to be here."
Tollison said he thinks the online programs are filling a need.
"Our faculty are committed to providing quality educational opportunities that transcend time and place to working adults across the state and now the world," he said.
"It is incredibly rewarding to see the difference we are making in the lives of our online students – many of whom might not have been able to attend college otherwise. Thanks to our online programs, there is no limit to how far the Long Blue Line can reach."