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.