The Penn State World Campus Admissions team held a question-and-answer–style webinar for prospective students to connect with our Alumni Ambassadors. These ambassadors serve a critical role by sharing their first-hand experiences as recent graduates for those who are considering applying to a degree program. Following are some of the questions asked at the webinar — and responses from one of our ambassadors, Heather Mitterer, about her experiences as an online learner.
Topic: Alumni Advice
What was the greatest source of motivation for you?
My family was a critical part of my educational career. My husband and a few key friends kept me moving forward with encouraging words and support. I never lost sight of my desire to pursue an education. I focused on my aspiration for personal enrichment and career advancement during tough times.
What advice do you have for future students that you wish you had gotten before you started your program?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t procrastinate. In an online setting, you must reach out and ask the professor if you do not understand something. It isn’t as simple as raising your hand like you would in a class. Second, plan your weeks at the beginning of the week and review the materials and assignments that you must complete.
How has your life changed since you earned your degree at Penn State, and how did the degree prepare you for any new position or responsibility?
I was promoted four months after obtaining my degree. I had worked in customer service and leadership roles within my company, and then was promoted to human resources manager. This role is aligned with my Penn State degree. My education increased my self-confidence and critical thinking, and provided a good, ethical framework for decision making.
What were you nervous about when coming back to school? Did you have any struggles?
I was out of school for ten years prior to returning, and I was intimidated by the entire process of going back to school.
I also struggled with MLA and APA citation parameters. There is a method to writing, and it was new to me, which was intimidating. However, instead of being overwhelmed, I found resources to use as a reference point. I asked professors to explain steps to me, and I used the library resources to review work and edit.
The last struggle was dedicating my free time to school. Instead of reading a book for fun, I read a textbook. On vacation, I needed to put some time aside to log on for a discussion post or talk to a professor about making an accommodation. These are all little things that create small roadblocks that can seem challenging. However, the challenges are worth the bigger gain of an education.
Topic: Online Learning Experience
What would your biggest recommendation be to a new student who is starting online with Penn State World Campus?
Study your syllabus at the beginning of the week and plan ahead. Utilize whatever tools work for you to organize your assignments on a weekly basis, so that you do not get behind. At times of stress, keep your head up and rely on short-term goals and close friends and family who support you.
What is it like to work with peers from a distance?
It was challenging at times, specifically with group assignments. Penn State World Campus provides rooms and resources to virtually connect with other students. Professors will often ask for student locations/availability to match schedules as much as possible.
What was your average credit load per semester?
I started slow and took two classes for the first semester. If you have been out of school for a while, it may be best to start with one class to become familiar with the process. After that point, I organized the classes that I needed to take by combining some lower-level courses with higher-level courses. If I had a 200 level, a 300 level, and a 400 level, I would combine those three and take three in a semester, because I felt they offset one another in workload and academic rigor.
I was working full-time and taking an average of three to four classes per semester. For each 3-credit course, plan on about 10 to 12 hours of work a week.
How long did it take you to complete your program?
I started without any credits in fall 2008 at a community college. I took an average of two to three classes each semester (including summer) and graduated from Penn State in spring 2014. It took about six years.
Heather Mitterer is a 2014 Penn State World Campus graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Leadership and a Minor in Psychology. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with her husband.