Integral to the mission of the University of Missouri is a commitment to public service — the obligation to produce and disseminate knowledge that will improve the quality of life in the state, the nation and the world.

This weekend MU will host commencement exercises to celebrate a diverse group of graduates who have taken up that challenge. Among them are more than 300 scholars who are receiving degrees they earned online, often while working full time.

Carlos Blanco is one of them. A veteran educator, he holds a PhD in reading and critical thinking and a master's in higher education, both from the University of Arizona. He currently chairs the English and reading program at St. Louis Community College, where he has taught for 17 years.

Blanco's latest achievement is an educational specialist degree in educational, school and counseling psychology with an emphasis in mental health practices in schools. He earned the degree online through the MU College of Education.

"I believe I have the duty to seek out experiences that will help me develop my skills in the service of students, specifically with respect to the understanding of positive mental well-being practices for students," Blanco said.

Blanco wanted to continue his professional development with a distance-learning program that would allow him to continue working full time.

"I chose MU because of its affordability, and because the campus is in close proximity to my home," Blanco said. "This has permitted me to visit the campus multiple times to conduct school business and likewise meet with various professors throughout my studies.

"Educators need to foster positive mental health in classrooms, in addition to encouraging students' academic skills preparation," he said.

Blanco says his course work, particularly his 12 credit hours in multicultural education, will help both him and his students.

"My campus is diverse, representing varied underrepresented groups, including the LGBT community, diverse religious groups, etc.," Blanco said. "It is imperative that I continue to develop my knowledge and skills related to the teaching of diverse groups and their unique circumstances."

For Blanco, studying online offered not only convenience but also interaction between peers and instructors. "An important factor is the requirement for students to engage with one another through discussion boards, which are part of every course," he said.

Blanco recommends the program to other educators and emphasizes that the multicultural education graduate certificate would also benefit professionals in counseling and human services.

"I trust this degree will contribute to my students' positive mental health, and to my professional development as teacher," he said.

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