A new class of online graduates

Tiger statue on Mizzou's campus wearing a graduation cap.

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This weekend, May 17 – 19, the University of Missouri celebrates a new class of graduates during commencement ceremonies and events. Among them are 661 graduates who earned their degrees online. Members of Mizzou’s online class of `19 live in 46 states and 5 countries — some as far away as Thailand. Ranging in age from 22 to 68, the graduates are earning degrees from the bachelor’s to PhD level.

A suitcase and a dream

When Kweku Osei emigrated from the Republic of Ghana in 1999, education was on the top of his list of priorities. “I came with $300 in my pocket. I only had one suitcase and just a dream … and now, here I am. A graduate.”

Osei and his family live in Parkville, Missouri, where he is a full-time nurse. Osei is earning his doctor of nursing practice with an emphasis in family nurse practitioner (DNP) this week. He is married with three active children, so he needed a flexible program with supportive faculty.

“I cannot thank the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing enough because they have really given me an opportunity,” said Osei. “In doing so, they have also prepared me very well for the real world.”

Despite the format allowing him to work and take care of other responsibilities, Osei wants prospective students to know that going to school online isn’t easy. “It’s a lot of work. Right from the beginning, you are challenged. You have to be persistent and research-minded.”

And, now, all of Osei’s hard work has paid off. He gets to further his nursing career and also have more control over his schedule. In fact, his son hopes that his dad’s newly freed up schedule allows for some more family downtime. “I’m looking forward to coaching his soccer team,” he said.

A new perspective

Both family and career played a role in Leigh Spence’s decision to pursue her educational specialist (EdSp) degree online.

Spence was part of the team of six that launched Battle High School in Columbia, Missouri, in 2013. While putting in extra hours at work, she started on the journey to earn her EdSp. “The university was flexible with me, which allowed me to meet expectations all the way around — both workload and family life.”

Throughout the EdSp program, she found that the knowledge she was learning in her courses could be applied to her job as the director of counseling at the school. Spence appreciated the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and gain a new perspective on her daily work.

“I’m interested in knowing how people do things differently because I think we can always grow and evolve. The program afforded me the opportunity to do that.”

Battle High School is going through a time of change with a new principal on the horizon. With her EdSp under her belt, Spence feels confident in representing the counseling department, and the mental health needs of students, as leaders discuss the school’s vision for the future.

A step ahead

For Bailey Ganz, securing a job as a junior didn’t mean she needed to stop pursuing her bachelor of health science (BHS) degree. When her internship in Columbia offered her a full-time position, Ganz turned to her adviser. They suggested moving from the on-campus program to 100% online version.

Ganz had prior experience with online studies before making the switch. Specifically, she recalls taking an online medical terminology course during her internship that gave her skills to help her stand out. “I have no idea what I would’ve done if I didn’t have that class.”

In her senior year, Ganz continued to find the course work to be valuable for her job in physician support. With assignments that have helped her learn real-world skills, she is prepared for the next steps in her career. Not to mention, she has been able to hone-in on her leadership skills. “Not all programs teach that.”

A second chance

Another campus student turned online graduate, Gabby Bucaro, is earning her bachelor’s in hospitality management.

After moving back home to Chicago, getting a job at a local country club and pursuing her studies at a private university, she felt something was missing. She considered moving back to Mizzou to finish her degree.

But when Bucaro reached out to a previous contact at the university, she learned her on-campus program was available online — an option that would allow her to stay home and continue working in a job where she found her true passion. “It was destiny,” she said. “The universe was telling me to keep going and finish.”

“At one point, I felt that I wasn’t meant to get a degree. And that’s not the case. I am smart. I can do it. I just needed a little extra help and that’s what the online program gave me.”

Bucaro shares words of inspiration for prospective students that might be in the same situation: “It’s never too late to finish your degree. You can get your degree at 60. You can get your degree at 22. It makes no difference.”

Join us in celebrating the online class of 2019 on their online commencement ceremony website. Drop a congratulatory note in the guest book. Listen to inspiring words from Dean of College of Engineering Elizabeth Loboa. You’ll also hear from graduate speaker Tom Rose, an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Health Professions, who earned his online master of public health in 2017.

Earning your online degree this weekend? Share your experience with us on social media using #OnlineStripes:

Ready to earn your own #OnlineStripes? Join more than 317,000 Mizzou alumni making a difference across the globe. Learn more about Mizzou’s 125 online degrees and certificates.

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