Military Personnel Find Flexibility, Value in Online Program
The UMass Amherst online MPH in Public Health Practice degree program was designed with the working professional in mind. In fact, one of the requirements for admission to the program is that the applicant has three years of experience in health-related work and is currently working full-time. For busy public health and health care professionals looking to advance their education and their careers, an online degree from UMass Amherst makes a sensible choice; it provides flexibility and convenience with CEPH-accredited distance learning from a dedicated, knowledgeable faculty.
For one category of working professional, however, an online MPH degree offers a unique opportunity to overcome what might otherwise be insurmountable professional obstacles to obtaining a graduate degree. Military personnel have come to discover that the advantages provided by a fully online distance learning program can be an essential means to continue their education even while deployed or on active duty. As a result, a growing number of military men and women have chosen the UMass online MPH program.
“Distance learning has allowed me to be overseas and continue my education in a degree field I enjoy,” said Senior Airman Maegan Ransome, an Aerospace Medical Technician enlisted in the United States Air Force. Currently stationed in South Korea, Senior Airman Ransome wanted to further both her education and her career in the Air Force.
“I was very particular in the education I wanted to receive, and also wanted to find classes that gave me the knowledge that I needed for different tasks in my field. I was impressed with the variety of classes at UMass Amherst, as well as its reputation with online schooling. This is my first program solely online, so it was important to me that I found a program that suited my needs and desires so I was more apt to stay engaged.”
Airman First Class Kaitlin Ewald, currently serving active duty with the Massachusetts Air National Guard, has found that taking online MPH courses are an essential way to supplement her education. “I work a crew schedule which requires me to work overnight shifts,” Airman Ewald stated. “It makes it very challenging to complete class work.”
Ransome and Ewald were among four students with military affiliations who took Dr. Kathryn Tracy’s three-week summer session course in Public Health, Aging, and Health Policy. Having active military personnel in her online course presented Tracy with an unusual set of obstacles.
“In a three-week summer session, you’re trying to fit a week’s worth of online Blackboard discussion into one day,” said Dr. Tracy. “This is a tremendous organizational challenge when you need to accommodate people in different time zones who are 12 and 16 hours away. I had to figure it all out in advance and determine how strategically to give everyone a role. I had to really focus on the ‘engineering’ side of the class.”
Dr. Tracy’s course design ensures that everyone has an opportunity to weigh in and contribute their experiences and opinions. “The students need to be responsive to the material in the context of their life experience,” she said. “There are many professionals with terrific backgrounds which really enriches the discussion.”
Military assignments can sometimes compete with class assignments, making it difficult for those students who get called away to duty unexpectedly or who must find time to complete coursework under otherwise trying circumstances. Senior Airman Ransome experienced these challenges first-hand during the spring semester when she was sent to assist with the Japanese Tsunami relief efforts.
“I fell very behind,” Senior Airman Ransome commented. “Fortunately, my professors were understanding and allowed me to still turn in the work before the end of the semester.”
Dr. Tracy noted that during the short three-week period of her most recent summer session course, she had one member of the military return home, another who went to the Middle East, and a third who went away on a volunteer mission. One of the key components in the program’s flexibility then is to have dedicated instructors like Dr. Tracy, who, during the three-week format, will be “unavailable” for no more than eight hours in a day – just enough time to catch up on some sleep.
“I had technical difficulties with Blackboard and was unable to take a test,” Senior Airman Ransome reported. “Fortunately, Professor Tracy made accommodations for me. That truly means a lot when you are 8,000 miles away from the person you are trying to learn from!”
“Professor Tracy was extremely accommodating with any issues I had,” added Airman Ewald. “She was always able to find a solution to any difficulties I faced in balancing school and military life.”
Military personnel serve at great personal sacrifice. Fortunately, they find flexibility and convenience, along with a truly understanding, experienced, and knowledgeable group of faculty, who can meet their students’ needs while those students are in the field serving ours.