Diploma location comes alive as a virtual journey comes to an end
By Sandra Snyder / For The Scranton Journal
Just five or so years ago, Mitch Clark and Kelsey Morgan walked the traditional grounds of their undergraduate universities – while working and playing – and rested their heads on campus, or at least nearby, each night.
Clark, of Lincoln, Neb., and Morgan, of Fredon, N.J., had the complete experience, sitting in classrooms and interacting in person with peers and faculty. Morgan, who attended Lafayette College in Easton, lived first in a dormitory, then a sorority house, then an apartment, and enjoyed every perk of presence. Clark, who attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, also started out in a dormitory before moving into an apartment and taking advantage of all the same personal interactions.
Fast-forward a few years to marriage, families, demanding careers and other constraints on lives and times, and both students were ready for more education but also a more flexible structure. Fortunately, today’s technology makes that possible.
Clark, 29, works for the Nebraska State Legislature as legislative aide, witnessing how organizational change, a subject he studied at UNL, plays out in the business world. Morgan, 28, flexes her creative muscles as a senior associate brand manager at Mars Chocolate North America in Hackettstown, N.J., where she manages the entire Halloween portfolio.
Both were at career points where master’s work would provide them a desired path forward, but neither could pick up and go, physically, to the institution that ultimately suited them best: the University of Scranton.
So, after a thorough vetting process, involving everything from evaluating recruiter personalities to confirming desired accreditations, Clark and Morgan began the next phases of their journeys as online MBA students at the University. Skype, Facetime and other innovations became their new best friends.
Both were thrilled to be able to choose Scranton for its distinguishing qualities without regard for geography, though geography did provide at least some bonus points.
Clark had never been to the Northeast and was happy to have even a virtual look around. Morgan had had a physical taste given her parents own a home at Lake Wallenpaupack, and she’d been to the Mall at Steamtown in high school, but, somehow, she said, she never realized there was a university in the heart of the city.
After enrolling, Clark and Morgan immersed themselves as if they were on-campus students, interacting as much as anyone with physical presence would but never setting foot on campus until May 26, the day before their graduations and the first time they would make actual eye contact with the place they’d come to love from afar.
Morgan had just an hour and a half trip from The Garden State, but it might as well have been a journey to an alternate universe.
“When we pulled off the highway, it was like, ‘Whoa!’ ” she said. “This place is really captivating. This is an experience away from busy city life, kind of an escape.”
Interesting enough, the first visual that truly captivated was the colors.
“I love all the purple so much,” Morgan said, noting she can’t think of any other school that uses the regal color.
Next her eyes went to swells of pink flowers, dancing in a light breeze on a picture-perfect day. “The colors really pop here,” she marveled, repeatedly using the word “beautiful.”
For Clark, it was the history that popped.
A Catholic with a distinct interest in Jesuit stewardship, Clark said Scranton had “just felt right” for him before, but getting to walk around now and “read all the St. Ignatius quotes” really brought his online experience home.
“I’m really drawn to the philosophy,” he said, adding the city atmosphere wasn’t bad either.
Clark, who also enjoys “a good game of ultimate Frisbee and sand volleyball when time permits,” called Scranton reminiscent of UNL but noted UNL “does not have this history.”
These first visits to campus also delivered a memorable and unexpected blast of local history.
“We saw a train go through,” Morgan noted as she described the old-fashioned steam train that regularly rolls by campus as it takes tourists on historical jaunts.
As they walked past buildings new and old, peeking into hubs such as the DeNaples Student Center and the bookstore, Morgan and Clark talked about people and connections but not in the way one might expect from online students.
“You actually do get to know people,” Morgan said. “You don’t think you will, but you do.”
Clark agreed, noting he got to know professors and fellow students well and that group projects provided a special bonding experience.
One of those professors was Ken Zula, Ph.D., who described Clark as “an outstanding student” who “excelled at completing the program within an exceptional period of time.”
Zula noted how interesting he found it that Clark even planned a trip to Orlando, Fla., to visit a fellow online student, Drew Garner, whom he met for the first time on May 26.
Garner, Clark said, was his University recruiter but also became his online classmate. The two grew close before they physically met and planned the Florida trip for post-graduation. Clark said they had a great time and he expects they will now be lifelong friends.
Morgan may not have had quite the same experience but said her recruiters were similarly critical to her choosing Scranton.
“They stayed super laser-focused yet made the whole experience all about my individual needs,” she said. “That personalized experience was awesome.”
Personalities can make or break a decision on where to attend online graduate school, Clark added, especially if you crave a certain familiarity.
“Being here in Scranton is really not a whole lot different culturally for me,” he said, only hours after his plane landed in Avoca. “It’s kind of like the Nebraska of the East Coast.”
“You’re not in a big city,” he said, but you are in a warm, inviting city. “Only the accents are a little different.”