The Pioneer Post

The Pioneer Post is a resource for online students that provides tips and information about distance education.


Monday, May 5, 2008

By Melissa Gavin, student
Master of Science in Project Management Program

After graduating as an undergrad, I entered the "real world." I was somewhat disappointed in the opportunities that I had as they were not truly what I wanted. After two years, I realized there was not potential for advancement, so I decided to research graduate school. The task was daunting. I talked to many people about their thoughts on grad school and decided upon either an MBA or MSPM. The outcome of my decision was the MSPM at UW-Platteville, mainly because it is a distance education degree, but for other reasons as well.

Although distance education was an important factor, I had very little experience working in a virtual environment. The virtual environment differs greatly from the standard brick-and-mortar classrooms and takes a lot of adjusting. I remember my first week of school clearly. I made the prediction to my family that I was not going to complete my program due to stress. The online factor was only part of the reason this statement occurred. On top of this, I had just moved, recently had a child, and started working part-time.

I didn’t let the stress get to me. That evening I sat down and devised a plan, which has led to my continued success in the program. The first step of my plan was combining all of my due dates for the entire semester in date order, rather than by course. I broke them down by month and included all days. This helped me see how much time I had between assignments, but also where there were conflicts. I also added any personal items that could not be moved, such as vacations, weddings, and doctor appointments. This list keeps me organized throughout the entire semester and motivated to keep working.

Another thing that aided my success was learning to tackle one thing at a time. For instance, I would work through one course’s assignments in a day. This kept me organized and on topic. Subjects were less likely to get mixed up.

Having a family takes a lot of time, which is realized even more when you are a full-time student and stay-at-home mom. To tackle the family element, I would set aside time just for school. Instead of cleaning while my child was napping, I would read a textbook. Cleaning can be done anytime and by anybody. I also take one Saturday each month to go to the library or coffee shop and work distraction-free (i.e., no family and no cell phone). Studying for 8 hours can put a huge dent in the amount of work that you have to do any given week.

I also learned to balance my school and personal lives. Learning to say "Not today, but maybe tomorrow" to family and friends is an important discipline to follow. My friends and family have accepted that I need to study. They know that I’m not giving up on them, but will give them attention as soon as I have time. A few friends and I have come up with interesting ways to keep our socialization alive. For instance, if I'm studying at the coffee shop, my friends will visit for a quick cup of coffee and then leave. Not only does this let me have the social element, but also a refreshing break from studying.

By not giving up and continuing the challenge, I was able to succeed a lot better than I originally thought. My original goal was to complete my master’s degree; my new goal is to complete my degree with a 4.0 grade point average. It seemed daunting the first week of class, but after reorganization and priority setting, my goal should be accomplished this May. Any person can have a social life, work life, and family, while still completing the distance education program successfully. All you have to do is find a system that works for you.

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