Online Undergraduate Student Leadership Award Winner: Steven Doty

Our very first Online Undergraduate Student Leadership Award recipient is Steven Doty. Steven just completed his Bachelor of Arts in Media Communications (B.A.) We asked him to answer a few questions to learn more about his program and experience with Webster Online.

Why did you choose to do your degree online?

My choice to complete my degree online was mostly dictated by my career path. As a professional Airman in the United States Air Force, and more specifically as a photographer and strategic communicator, there are a lot of demands for hours outside of a typical “9 to 5” timeframe. Furthermore, travel requirements can strain any options for in-residence learning and for predicting from one semester to the next what courses I could complete.

I initially tried to balance both lifestyles but quickly realized that online learning offered the greatest flexibility, and then much later learned that I operated better by learning on my own and under a calendar-driven timeframe. Online learning also enhanced my time management and organizational skills. By being able to project-out assignments and reading requirements, I was then able to balance that against my Air Force-driven calendar.

Once I fully committed to this mindset and for earning my degree at Webster University, I was able to better prepare for courses and devise a task schedule that was ultimately what drove me to completing my degree in a short amount of time.

What advice would you give students who are considering getting their degree online?

Webster Professor, Julie Smith once transferred a statement to me that she heard from a chemistry professor during a summer orientation for her oldest child at the University of Missouri: “Education is NOT a product. It is NOT something you can buy. It is a process, a collaboration…and only THEN is it good for society. Students must take responsibility for their education; it is not something we just hand out.”

This is by far the most valuable advice I – well, this anonymous chemistry professor – can offer you. Online learning shouldn’t be remarked on as an “easy out,” or as less challenging than it is in the classroom. Online learning is a self-driven process with results directly connected to the effort you give to all areas and without the sort of constant motivation or drive you earn with face-to-face interaction. You can’t disappear online or blend into the crowd as you can on campus. On the contrary, online learning presents both qualitative and quantitative measurements for assessing your participation and for the effort you place in the work you present.

If you are not willing to commit to the process and stand on the principles you established as necessary for earning your degree, nothing will motivate you to push through the challenges that are undoubtedly going to present themselves. People will tell you that time management is the greatest obstacle for online learning, but time management is only a consideration – a factor – for obtaining your degree. The truth is that the greatest obstacle is you. Earning your degree online is about addressing whether you’re willing to allow various factors and circumstances to sway you from your principles and from that very motivation that set you on the course in the first place, or never forgetting the value-added attributes a degree will provide you in society and how the only right time is now.

In short, my best advice is to develop, commit and then honor your motivation for initiating your educational goals.

What was the hardest part about doing your coursework remotely?

Life. Life is what continually underlined my excuse for not starting and committing to my degree in the first place. Once I committed to a full-time commitment, I quickly realized exactly why it had held me back for so long. I believe that it was my maturity and my professional motivations that ultimately suspended my hesitations and excuses.

Life can offer any learner – online or otherwise – a myriad of excuses to not tackle coursework. In reality, many of these excuses are justified and specifically with some life-career stressors that take priority and attention away from any goal. However, with the format and flexibility of online learning and professors like those at Webster University, there is always a secondary plan and always a remarkable consideration for contingency plans to work around those factors and which allow you to remain focused on the ultimate goal; graduation.

During my time at Webster, life threw at me two major surgeries, extended training courses (which, in of themselves required my full-time attention), a move from Texas to Alaska, one tragedy, while also gifting our family with the birth of a child; not to mention the persistent, daily demands of a military career.

Even still, I was able to use the motivations which initiated my educational path and the encouragement and support of my professors at Webster. Life was the hardest obstacle to overcome while completing coursework remotely.

We usually recommend that online students set a time and place to “go to class;” did you do this? Would you give us tips?

Yes! Everyone is different. I know there are some people excellent at making time throughout the day, while others squeeze in time as they get it. For me, I wanted to establish a schedule that offered the greatest amount of time to focus and engage my coursework but that impacted time at work and with family as little as possible.

For me, I chose the time I felt most focused and uninterrupted; 3:00 a.m. Believe it or not, it’s so common and comfortable for me now that I still operate like this as I complete my master’s, and even tasks that I can’t seem to get done during the day (I’m writing these response at 3:00 a.m.. I found that there was never time during my work day – and I never wanted it to interrupt and takeaway focus from my job – and when I came home at the end of the day, I really wanted to engage with my family. The last thing anyone wants to do when they get home from work is do more work.

Even more important was my free time. I rarely carried schoolwork into the weekend, but if I did, I committed to the same time: 3:00 a.m.

The point is; it doesn’t have to be early, it doesn’t have to be late, it just has to be something that works for you and that allocates an appropriate amount of time and focus and which earns a tangible, measurable and observable product. Scheduling your academic time is critical because the week’s will sneak up on you and if you don’t effectively manage your time against a calendar-driven course, you will fall behind and you will not earn anything of value from your education.

How long did it take you to feel comfortable with the fact that you would never see your classmates? Do you feel you got to know some of them better than others throughout the program?

I often thought this was a downside, but then I narrowed down and identified the goal of my education and it wasn’t necessarily as much about the people I could know, as much as it was about the education I could obtain. As a result of various life circumstances, I found myself earning my education next to students nearly a decade younger than me. So, for me, the question triggers a different response. My life was/is surrounded by remarkable people and situations and all while I’m privileged and proud to have the best sort of friends anyone can have; a family of my own. That, in of itself negates the need for the interaction you may encounter in a residence setting, and rather, allows you to focus on the ultimate task at hand; earning your education one course at a time.

However, with the value of online learning urged at every age and at any point in a person’s life – to include post-high school – I would say that for some it can seem lonely and even an impedance to effective learning. Just as some students require instructor-led courses where questions and clarifications are more immediate than they are online, so are others driven through community-based learning like that of a classroom and with the assistance of students in a physical classroom.

I would say that these considerations should be factored into deciding on an online program. However, because of the value of online learning, I would say that a blended program is most beneficial so you can obtain the benefits of both learning environments.

How did you approach your class on a daily basis? Did you have a set pattern for accessing certain tools or parts of the course each day?

Yes; this was part of developing my schedule. I often approached each week by reading through the required material on Sunday in the morning, or throughout the day as I had the chance.

Monday and Tuesday were dedicated to completing initial posts and starting any individual assignment or project. By Wednesday, and as most students had completed their mandatory initial posts, I was then able to post responses. Thursday and Friday were spent completing my individual assignments or projects while routinely checking into lecture notes, inputs by students or professors and looking ahead to the next week. By Friday, everything was usually complete and it was then about maintain situational awareness on discussion posts and if there was input I needed to reply on, or if I was driven to a particular discussion thread, posting and contributing to those discussions.

From the moment I logged onto WorldClassRoom, the Dashboard was the first place I looked. This offers you an oversight to all of your courses and can help provided key notes for sorting and prioritizing your weekly tasks. Because certain sections like, Inbox, offer notifications, it was also easy to see if you needed to guide your attention to a specific site and all while on the Dashboard. Following this, I was able to navigate from one course and throughout the sections of those courses with ease and without confusion. WorldClassRoom is a well-developed medium and was structured to help you succeed. If you understand the systems you use, and understand how to maximize them to your advantage, you can essentially succeed in anything. WorldClassRoom was a wonderful program for earning my degree.

What was your most memorable course and instructor? Can you elaborate why?

This is a difficult question. Each course was unique and valuable in its own way; to include the professor delivering the course. I was fortunate to interact with Professor’s Polly Birch, Eileen Solomon, Leon Sharpe, Holger Lang, Scott Jensen, Gina Jensen, Kit Jenkins, and S.J Creek and all provided me with a unique takeaway that has most certainly impacted my life and career perspectives. However, what made some courses stand out more than others were in fact the very professors driving the course. In truth, two courses I considered as “basic” during my initial assessment would become two of my more intriguing courses: MEDC 1630, Introduction to Media Literacy with Professor Julie Smith; and MEDC 1050, Media Writing with Professor Joseph Schuster.

Professor Smith is an insightful, relatable and approachable online instructor with a remarkable ability to not only showcase her depth of knowledge for the subject she is instructing, but in addition, her intrinsic enthusiasm for teaching. Professor Smith always remained a person rather than a digital entity throughout and because she interacted with students through multiple media utilities, it was easy to physically and literally witness her passion, motivation and interest for the material. The online learning environment presents various challenges and intimidating factors that can inhibit a student’s ability to accurately and effectively move through the learning process. It takes a great deal of effort and creative consideration to inspire those students to absorb the information in manner that is measured in more than grades, rather in results that can be truly applied and observed in everyday situations and experiences.

Although far and few in between, it is Professor’s like Julie Smith that continually encourage and inspire students like me to work harder than ever in pursuit of the educational dream so many students have. I am extremely pleased with the results my education at Webster has presented, and how the encouragement and learning materials Professor Smith has provided has given me uniquely applicable skills and attitudes for my professional environment.

Professor Schuster transformed me from an experienced-professional student with a chip on his shoulder, to a very humbled and eager-to-learn-more student. With just over a decade of strategic military communications reflected on my resume at the time I started his course, I approached with extreme hesitation; internally questioning what value it held for me. However, I soon realized that it wasn’t as much about the course for me as it was about the challenges Professor Schuster would present me with. After nearly immediately recognizing my need to enhance my professional skills and even more, my desire to learn, he began pushing me to present coursework that was above the standard. It was not uncommon for him to start his feedback with the statement: “A couple of added notes that go beyond the scope of this class and the assignment.” It is an attribute that never frustrated me, rather challenged and excited me, and he knew this. To be able to communicate with a student like this –particularly one you’ve only “seen” online – requires more than teaching, it requires caring. He would go one to mentor me through my senior portfolio and played a significant role in helping me to earn a successful admission in Purdue University’s, Brian Lamb School of Communication Masters of Science in Communication program. Professor Schuster is a remarkable instructor whose elation for teaching and inspiring is made evident from the moment you interact with him. However urging I have attempted to be, this statement alone is not enough to cover the incredible impact Professor Schuster had on my learning experience, or the impact he has had on my life.

What does the Online Undergraduate Student Leadership Award mean to you?

It means that it was all worth something – the assignments, deadlines, discussions, and numerous and in-depth projects. It sounds petty and it sounds overly snobbish; but it’s deeper than that.

To some, it’s a placard on the desk and maybe a tagline on the resume; but to people like my wife, it’s validation. She was the one who suffered most from my need to earn my degree and in the aggressive manner and timeframe in which I did it. She was the one watching me drag my feet by the end of the weekend because I had allocated nearly 18 hours of my day to everyone and everything but myself. She watched as I tirelessly balanced life, work and family, and all to earn a degree. For her, this shows that it all mattered and made a difference. I don’t often get the credit I deserve in a career full of incredible professionals and hard workers; in my line of work, everyone cares about the mission and everyone does more than they should. So for a moment in time, and in one consideration of my life, this serves as a token of that earnest effort and of the sacrifices I offered to do my best.

For me, this award assures me that what I have committed myself to – lifelong learning – is a goal perfectly attuned for me.

More importantly, this award validates that my choice of Webster University, the choice that took months of vetting and investigating, was the best choice I could have made. It launched me into my goals and has since catapulted me into my master’s program and further motivated me to ultimately pursue a Ph.D.

Lest I forget, this award means that the professors I cared so deeply for and with cared just the same for me. Professors like Mr. Joseph Schuster are the people inspiring lives and shifting the generations of people entering adulthood and who ultimately shape the world. Awards like this, and others like it presented across the campus, are moving and inspiring students to wanting to do more and ultimately, this will carry on into other people and in bigger ways.