Thursday, March 26, 2015

Construction worker builds new life

Taurean WashingtonA ditch box resembles a huge steel sandwich. Two eight-foot-long steel panels are held a few feet apart by metal rods. An excavator lowers the box sideways into a deep and narrow ditch. Inside the sandwich, where the jam would be, and often far below the surface, workers connect pipes.

The boxes hold back hundreds of tons of dirt, which can crush the ribcage and leave the victim to suffocate underground. Ditch boxes are also called trench shields. Given the instability of soil and the risks of working around heavy equipment, some workers call them coffins.

Taurean Washington, above, started at Washington State University in 1999. He was 18, and spent very little time studying. He dropped out in 2003. He went back to the West Side, found a job in construction, and ended up in a ditch box. Over the next 11 years, he got promoted from general laborer to foreman, but still worked in the box.

“I almost got buried twice,” he said. Last September, he escaped by leaping onto a pipe, and gave serious thought to changing jobs.

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It wasn’t only the danger, and the three back injuries. He is married now, lives in SeaTac, Wash., and wants to have a family. “I was working 50 to 60 hours a week, from the first sunny day to the last sunny day,” he said. “That’s not a schedule to be present as a father.”

With the support of his wife, Taurean left his job, and, in spring 2015, enrolled at WSU’s Global Campus. He’s now 33, taking five courses and studying full time. “I wake up and start doing stuff, and I do it all day,” he said. “I wind down at the end of the week and start over on Monday.”

When Taurean enrolled, he thought Global Campus courses involved mainly watching lectures online. But four out of his five courses involve reading materials, then discussing them with professors and other students. “Turns out I’m doing the best in the four classes that don’t have lectures,” he said. “It’s actually a much better format; you get a better grasp of what they want you to learn.”

He is majoring in both social sciences and criminal justice, and will graduate in May 2016. “The plan is to start working on kids then,” he said. “And on finding a job.” Taurean is an accomplished mixed martial arts fighter, and hopes those skills, along with his WSU diploma, will be the one-two punch that leads to his ideal position:

“I’ve always wanted to be in law enforcement,” he said. “I’m hoping to become a defense tactics instructor for a police department.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hockey player always moving forward

Tyler AlosTyler Alos moves fast. At 14, he was drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds hockey team. At 15, to get experience, the Spokane resident played for the Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Lakers. At 16, he moved from Spokane to Seattle to play for the T-Birds, living with a host family and completing high school between practices and games. He played 201 games, and racked up 19 goals and 37 assists before taking an assistant coach position in 2012.

Even though he now wears a tie instead of a jersey, Tyler is still on the move. The team plays 72 games a year and travels for 36 of those games.

When you’re always on the run, things get left behind. For Tyler, 22, that was his four-year degree. He had earned an associate’s degree but wanted the additional opportunities and income that a bachelor’s would bring. So he thought back to his high school days:

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“All my friends from Shadle Park and North Central high schools were headed to WSU,” he said. “I had always wanted to be a Cougar but never had that option because I was pursuing my hockey career.”

In fall 2014, Tyler found that option. He enrolled in WSU’s online program, the Global Campus, and is on track to become the first in his family to earn a degree.

“I don’t want to struggle like we did growing up,” he said. “That’s really why I’m earning my degree, to provide myself and my family a comfortable lifestyle free of monetary worry.”

With Wi-Fi on the bus and in hotels, Tyler’s travel time is now study time. “I have studied in every western province in Canada as far east as Brandon, Manitoba,” he said. “There has been a lot of studying done on those Canadian prairies.”

Tyler is majoring in social sciences, and considering either advancing as a coach or working as a law enforcement officer or firefighter—preferably something that doesn’t involve sitting in an office.

His home base is in Renton, Wash. He lives with his girlfriend and is putting off marriage—despite her hints, he says—because he wants more financial security before settling down. But a wedding may not be far off, judging by her persuasiveness: “She sends me a picture of a little dog at least once a day,” he said, “just to let me know she wants a puppy.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

Amazing journey: Runaway to therapist

Sherrie St. ClairIf you have a boat, she asks, and you replace each plank one at a time, will it still be the same boat? She laughs. She says, “What if the planks are ideas—the ideas that make us who we are?” and taps the plastic top of her paper cup and recounts her past as if it were on index cards:

A child in an abusive home. Two-time high-school dropout. A 16-year-old who decided to kill herself by hitch-hiking. Staunch Christian. A foster child, just like her parents. Someone who vowed never to have children. (“Abuse is so generational. I figured I’d just stop all of it.”) Now a married mother of five. Now the first person in her family with a bachelor’s degree, the first with a master’s.

“I don’t want to be defined by where I come from,” Sherrie St. Clair says in a spacious north Spokane coffee shop. “It’s not me.” She laughs—she laughs a lot—and adds, “It is me, but it’s not me. It’s just a snapshot. I’m still becoming.”

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Sherrie is 46 now, and wondering what she will become next. Her future options seem as numerous as her past challenges: She could volunteer at the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. “So I can go cuddle babies,” she says. Teach self-esteem classes. Write books for children in counseling. “Parents would read them to kids, and both would learn,” she says. “Writing, teaching, counseling—I’m in a really creative space in my life right now.”

Her choices are diverse, but all rooted in her desire to help others, especially young people. Her first big step toward that goal was in 2008, when she enrolled in Washington State University’s online program. She wasn’t sure she could succeed; she still remembered her father’s words: “What makes you think you’re smart enough?” The scholarship, she says, was WSU’s reply: “Yes, you can do this.”

In 2010, she graduated with a bachelor’s in Social Sciences and a 3.96 GPA. In 2014, she earned her master’s in counseling from Liberty University with a 3.95 GPA.

Many WSU Global Campus online course spaces have virtual mentors, who offer non-academic support. A virtual mentor noticed Sherrie’s leadership abilities, and asked her to apply for the program. Sherrie was accepted, and even now, five years after graduating from WSU, she’s still helping others along the same path.

Part of a virtual mentor’s job is to read the discussion boards. Sherrie has found a kind of camaraderie amid all the course-specific dialogue, a shared belief that by bettering your own life, you can better the lives of others.

“I see a lot of people who are there because they want to inspire their kids, because they want to make a difference in their families and communities,” she says, “and I think I’m not really as different as I thought.”

“You seem so wise,” a listener says.

“Mostly I think I’m nuts,” Sherrie says. And we all laugh.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

eLearning also includes ski learning

ASWSU Global leadership1From left, John Larson, Katie Walsh and Zack Lipana.

Online education is all about cozying up at home and thinking deep thoughts, right? Think again:

A long trough descends through the hard-packed snow atop Mount Spokane. The children are gleeful. The adults show no fear—although some wonder why the inner tubes carry ads for dental services. ASWSU Global Senator Katie Walsh hesitates before lowering herself onto a tube. She hasn’t gone tubing since she was a child. It’s the first time for her 9-year-old son, Jeremy. Jeremy is excited. Katie is thinking that, at age 30, bones take longer to heal.

Katie has only herself to blame for her predicament. She organized the Global Campus evening skiing and tubing trip. Most ASWSU Global events—the Tacoma Rendezvous, tailgate parties, zoo trips—are on the West Side. “Our East Side students had been asking for more events over here,” she says. They especially enjoy events suited for children. “A lot of them are in their 30s, so they want something they can bring their kids to.”

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Heather Potak, a social sciences major, has brought her husband and three children. “It’s a fun family event,” she says.

IMAG4226When accounting major Ashley Grubb signs in at the ski lodge, she mentions her home town, and gets a cheer from fellow accounting student, ASWSU Global President John Larson. Both, it turns out, are from the small city of Chewelah, Wash. John is delighted. “I’ve met people from Stevens County before,” he says, “but I can’t recall meeting anyone from Chewelah at one of these events.”

Ron Moser is earning a graduate certificate in engineering and technology management online. He’s a former executive at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and the University of Phoenix. He’s now a leadership consultant who also teaches a business course at WSU Pullman.

“We want to be more involved with WSU,” says Moser, who brought three of his four children. “And this is a good opportunity to get out and meet people.”

When the evening ends, the last two guests return from the tubing hill. Neither has broken anything. Both are jubilant. “We closed it down,” Katie says. “We were the last ones there. It was great!”

For a list of upcoming face-to-face events, visit the ASWSU Global events page.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New biz major: Hospitality management

Business meeting at dinnerWashington State University is launching an online bachelor of arts major in hospitality business management for fall 2015.

Students will learn the fundamentals of operating hotels, restaurants, sports and convention centers, senior facilities, and tourist destinations, both in the U.S. and internationally. Here’s a link to the news release.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Student earns 74 credits in one year

Paul CumminsA full-time WSU student earns about 30 credits a year. WSU Global Campus student Paul Cummins earned 74 credits in the past year—while working full-time, raising two kids, coaching his eldest son’s basketball team, maintaining a 3.6 GPA, and running an occasional 200-mile relay race.

Paul is a consulting systems engineer who supports infrastructures for nationwide wireless networks. He lives in Snoqualmie, Wash. He’s soft-spoken, self-effacing, and often uses the word “efficient.”

The first step, he said, is to find the right major. “You should spend a lot of up-front time figuring this out,” he advised, “because if you change it later on, it will cost you time.”

Paul decided WSU’s online business degree would best provide relevant skills and career advancement: “Getting my degree is something that I’d overlooked,” he said, “but others don’t.”

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He examined WSU’s management information systems major, but determined that attending just one college would take too long—“I wanted to be efficient,” he said—so he enrolled at both WSU Global Campus and Bellevue College. Last summer, he was simultaneously taking six accelerated six-week courses, three from each institution. “I don’t ever want to do that again,” he said. “It was nuts.”

Paul also earned 15 credits through proficiency tests called CLEP exams. But Paul used CLEP only for what he calls “the easy stuff,” like math, English and psychology. “I went to school for the more business-centric material,” he said. “The process of learning should be longer for things you need to spend more time on.”

How did he find that time? One strategy is “grouping” the courses: He takes classes with similar curriculums so he can apply concepts learned in one class to another. He also tries to find courses in which the due dates don’t conflict.

To stay organized, he lists all due dates in an Excel spreadsheet. At the end of each week, he reviews his spreadsheet to ensure he’s on track. “You never want to be behind,” he said. “If you get a little behind, you have to work so much harder to get caught up.”

Paul also uses a separate color-coded spreadsheet (see sample) to organize his waking hours. That spreadsheet—which includes work, learning and family—is based on more than efficiency: “You’ve got to have family in there,” he said. “Otherwise my wife would kill me.”

Friday, January 9, 2015

U.S. News: Global Campus in top 20

US-News-option3U.S. News & World Report has ranked
WSU Global Campus
20th in the nation among online undergraduate degree programs.

The 2015 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs report rated 296 schools on four categories: student engagement, faculty credentials and training, peer reputation, and student services and technology. (Complete methodology here.) WSU Global Campus was awarded 91 out of 100 points in the category of faculty credentials and training.

“WSU faculty have always been the heart of our online program,” said Dave Cillay, WSU vice president in charge of the Global Campus. “They bring not only a profound understanding of their fields, but also a genuine commitment to helping students succeed.”

The Global Campus offers eight undergraduate and 12 graduate degrees, as well as undergraduate and graduate certificates. Global Campus students also engage with the WSU community through unique extracurricular options, such as an online student government, face-to-face gatherings, and the Global Connections program, which presents online educational and cultural events.

Last year’s U.S. News report ranked the Global Campus undergraduate program 21st in the nation.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ex-farmworker: WSU ring says it all

sylvia guzman Global CampusSylvia Guzman holds out her hand. Her class ring is silver with a red garnet, and engraved with the words Washington State University, her year of graduation, and the Cougar logo. It’s a substantial piece of jewelry—as much monument as ornament—and looks bulky on her slender finger.

“I wear it every day,” she says. “It reminds me of what helped me become who I am now. I can’t carry my diploma around with me, but I can wear my ring and say, ‘see that, that’s my BA.’”

Sylvia now teaches two classrooms of mainstream and disabled preschoolers for Skagit Island Early Head Start. She uses Spanish, English and sign language. She makes daily visits to low-income parents to connect them with such agencies as GED programs and food banks—and she brings a personal familiarity with their struggles:

At 13, Sylvia started working in the fields of Central California to help her parents, immigrants from Oaxaca. At 18, Sylvia married Cornelio, a fellow Oaxacan. They traveled up and down the Northwest, picking oranges, grapes, lemons, olives, blueberries, cucumbers, apples, and strawberries. They lived in labor camps, their van, and livestock barns—and awoke to rats in their bed.

More... At 21, Sylvia was fed up with fieldwork. It was 2001. She was sharing a two-bedroom house with Cornelio, their two young children and about 20 other people in Burlington, Wash. She walked across the street to a child-care center.

“I told the woman that I’d come here every day for a week and work for free,” she says. She got a job, then earned her associate’s degree from Skagit Valley College and enrolled in WSU’s online program.

“The WSU instructors really work with you,” Sylvia says, “They understand that we’re working people, and they’re flexible when we have issues with our jobs or children.”

In 2010, she earned her bachelor’s in human development with a minor in early childhood education. She was featured at the WSU commencement ceremony, in Washington State Magazine, and on the front page of the local paper.

Next on her list are getting a promotion and a master’s in counseling. While her WSU degree has put those goals within reach, she says, it’s also helping her now, both with practical skills—“everything I learned at WSU I’ve been able to use in my current position”—and increased confidence.

“My BA is an affirmation that I know what I’m talking about, that I know what I’m doing,” she says. “This ring tells me that, every day.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Two new American Indian Studies options

ais web photoWSU Global Campus is launching an online certificate and an online minor in American Indian Studies.

The certificate will be available in Spring 2015, and registration is now open. Applicants do not need to be enrolled in a degree program at WSU.

The certificate requires 18 credits, or six courses: Three core courses and three electives from related areas. Core topics include history, politics and law; elective topics include gender roles, film art, and contemporary cultures. For more information, please go to the WSU Global Campus website.

The Global Campus is also offering a new minor in American Indian Studies this spring, with a similar course list. The minor requires 18 credits. More info is here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

WSU Global Campus ranked #1 in state

IMG_0565WSU Global Campus has been named the best online degree program in Washington state by Edudemic, a Seattle organization that covers teaching, learning, and technology.

“Washington State University really knocked our socks off,” the group said. “We appreciated their strong reputation, proven out by placement on all three of our outside rankings, as well as top graduation and retention rates for the state. … Overall, Washington State University is our clear top choice for the state.”

The group’s methodology involved looking at metrics in five areas: performance, financial aid, career services, responsiveness, and transparency. “We started by scouring for data high and low, organizing publicly available data like graduation and tuition rates, and augmenting it with our own surveys,” the group said. “In many cases, especially for the top ranked schools, we picked up the phone and asked our questions directly.”

In the end, the group said, “It’s hard to write about Washington State University’s performance without lapsing into superlatives. They are above average in every metric, and their reputation is recognized by all three of our outside rankings. They finish #1 in the state in a broad set of categories, including graduation and retention rates. They finished at the top of our list for a reason: they’re the best in the state.”

The Global Campus was also named best in state this September by The Best Schools.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Criminal justice degree is best in nation

emily chandlerThe online criminal justice bachelor’s degree at WSU Global Campus is the best non-profit program in the nation, according to a new ranking by Criminal Justice Degree Online.

The group emphasized its thorough methodology:

“To reach number one,” it said, “a program had to pass a gauntlet of tests: be a part of a university with stellar graduation and retention rates, provide more department resources than others, amaze us with useful answers to our survey, and even answer more questions over the phone. WSU did it all.”

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The group praised the faculty’s strong professional affiliations and found that the criminal justice program had the nation’s ninth highest graduation rate and 12th highest retention rate, as well as high placement in rankings from U.S. News and World Report, Forbes, and Washington Monthly. It also said the responses from Global Campus admissions counselor Emily Chandler, top right, were the “most informative and sincere” of their entire survey. (The full methodology can be seen here.)

Chandler said the group took a “secret shopper” approach to the survey. “I had no idea that I had spoken with any reviewers – they must have posed as a prospective student,” she said. “I do my best to always give thorough and sincere answers, but the credit really belongs to our WSU faculty, and to the Global Campus as a whole.”

Professor Craig Hemmens, chair of WSU’s criminal justice department, said the department is dedicated to ensuring a world-class education for all students, no matter where or how they attend: “We take seriously our mission to educate the next generation of justice professionals and policymakers, and to make sure they have the knowledge necessary to make the criminal justice system the best it can be.”

The group looked only at non-profit universities, citing factors that ranged from reputation to graduation rates on a webpage that it devoted to for-profit programs.

The Global Campus online criminal justice program has also been ranked in the nation’s top 10 by Create a Career, Best Colleges, and The Best Schools. For more information, please go to the Global Campus website.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Students get big helping of Coug spirit

Global Campus student Rebecca Holdquist and son TylerRebecca Hultquist counts on the help of her son Tyler.

People leaving the Bookie stopped and sniffed. Children let go of their balloons. Vegetarians reconsidered.

The scent of grilled ribs was wafting from a Global Campus tailgate party on the lawn atop the library at WSU Pullman.

“This is amazing,” said student Jasmine Goodwin as she sampled the food at last Saturday’s Homecoming event. “We’re really impressed.” After lunch, she and her friends were planning to join swarms of other avid Cougs at the Bookie: “I want socks,” she said. “Coug socks.”

The party was organized by the Global Campus student government, ASWSU Global, and drew more than 100 guests. Along with barbecued ribs, the event featured shrimp skewers, pulled pork sandwiches, and giveaways that ranged from football tickets to an iPad Mini.

More... Jasmine and two friends came from the West Side for the event. Jasmine has a 2013 bachelor’s in communications from WSU Pullman and is now earning her online professional writing certificate—“I have all A’s so far”—as a stepping stone to getting an online master’s in strategic communication from WSU. She is a publicist for Three Girls Media in Seattle, and the reigning Miss Seafair.

So why did she drive all the way to Pullman? Are there no ribs in Seattle?

“Because …” she said. “Because … Go Cougs!”

Maria Romero drove two and a half hours from Sunnyside, Wash., along with her daughter, Sonya, and son, Angel.

“I like attending these events,” said Maria, who is earning her bachelor’s degree in human development. “They’re really good, family oriented and a great opportunity to meet school staff and other students.”

She’s planning to graduate in 2016, and will definitely return for commencement. “I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

Rebecca Hultquist came from Spokane with her husband and two sons. She started at WSU Pullman in the late ’90s, left, got married, and had kids. Then she realized she needed a human development degree to do what she loved: Teach children.

“Kids have always been my passion,” she said. Her own kids have been equally passionate about supporting her decision to go back to school.

“They said, ‘We’ll do whatever we need to do to help you finish your degree.’ And whenever I need to go study, they let me be.”

Her son Taylor nodded in agreement, and chimed in: “It’s kind of disappointing because now she can’t come out and play basketball,” he said.

“There are things I have to sacrifice,” Hultquist said.

The next in-person ASWSU Global events are December commencement parties in both Pullman and Seattle. The Global Connections program offers regular online extracurricular activities, which can be found on its CougSync page.