Distance Learning Doesn’t Hinder Engagement

By: Samantha Silva, Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine student

distance learningIf you had told me a few years ago that I would pursue my master’s degree entirely online, I may not have believed you.

In all honesty, I have always preferred being in a classroom setting. As an undergraduate student, I truly enjoyed walking to class each day and interacting with my professors and fellow classmates (you can call me a nerd, it’s okay). I felt as though this was the only way for me to really learn—by seeing, hearing and doing everything in person. Therefore, I assumed that if higher education would be in my future, it would be completed in the same manner as my undergraduate studies.

But, as we all know too well, life happens. The plan that I had so diligently created for my future went completely awry after graduation and I found myself at a total loss in terms of what I wanted to do. I entered the workforce, desperate to get back on the right track. After several years of working jobs in different fields, I was introduced to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition—a completely online health coaching program. Enrolling in and completing this program gave me the confidence that I needed; I realized that I could fit my studies into the nooks and crannies of my busy life. Guest speakers Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Kristi Hughes gave me my first glimpse of the power of functional medicine and I knew immediately that this was the path I was meant to pursue.

As I dove into researching different graduate programs, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for—that is, until I found University of Western States. The course names and descriptions are what first captured my attention; however, the flexibility in scheduling was also a major factor in my choosing UWS. I appreciate that this university understands that their students come from all different backgrounds, from all different parts of the world, with different commitments and situations. I, for instance, have been able to spread my classes out over nine quarters as opposed to the traditional seven, which has helped me tremendously in achieving academic success (and maintaining my sanity!) while working full-time.

Yes, I am a distance learner; however, the UWS community has never felt distant to me. The discussion forums connect me with my professors and fellow students and I am provided tremendous amounts of support and feedback almost immediately. My professors, the registrar, the financial aid office and other administrators typically reply to communications within a few hours, and they are always more than willing to help me work through any issue that may arise. The university is incredibly inclusive, opening opportunities like social media contests and student blogging (hello!) to both on-campus and online students alike. Though I am clear across the country in Richmond, Virginia, I truly feel as though I am a part of the phenomenal energy that makes UWS so unique—and that, to me, is invaluable.