Fully-online student hasn’t let distance from Miami hinder global learning experience
Aleta Neilson hasn’t let being a fully-online student stop her from being involved with global learning. Aleta currently serves on the executive board of a student organization, and the leadership committee for the Peace Corps Prep program. She’s already completed FIU’s Academy of Leaders, and is on track to be one of the first online students to earn the Global Learning Medallion.
Aleta ended up at FIU Online studying sociology and anthropology, with a minor in psychology, after her nursing career came to an end due to a physical injury, which ultimately resulted in homelessness. She earned her Associate’s Degree (prior to coming to FIU) while still living in her car, and was inducted into National Society of Collegiate Scholars with a 4.0. Wanting to move on to her Bachelor’s, Aleta was thrilled to realize that accredited, prominent institutions were starting to offer more robust fully-online programs. Aleta was drawn to FIU, “one of the best schools in the country,” as far as she’s concerned, and was happy to learn that she would be able to attend from her home in North Florida.
“Some prestigious academic institutions that spoke with me, including a well-known Ivy League university, didn’t fully admit women to undergraduate programs until after FIU was open,” she said. This was important to her personally, as she strongly supports gender and racial equity; some members of her family did not support her childhood goal of being a pediatrician because of her gender.
Aleta’s involvement in university activities started when one of her professors, Archibald Kincaid, took notice of how Aleta stood out in his Social Theory class by helping other students in her group projects use library resources and learn to cite sources properly. Kincaid invited Aleta to be part of a club he advises, Slow Food FIU, which promotes food that is good, clean and fair to people and the environment, and she took the role of Marketing and Communications Coordinator. She is also a member of clubs including Student Alliance for Prison Reform (SAPR) and Student Alliance Fighting Exploitation (SAFE), and anti-human trafficking group.
Two of the FIU Global Learning programs Aleta is in also did not fully accommodate fully-online students prior to the 2016-17 academic year; while online students could sign up for the Global Learning Medallion, for example, there was a requirement to attend on-campus events, which was prohibitive to students outside of Miami. She was, however, able to do Academy of Leaders (AOL), one of the first FIU involvement opportunities that could be done fully online.
“[AOL advisor Sabrena O’Keefe] was wonderful, and you can do things at your own pace so you don’t have to choose between finishing the program and classwork. One of the great things about this leadership program is that it helps you bring out the leader inside others too.”
Based on enthusiastic feedback from online students who recognized the importance of gaining the knowledge and skills for global citizenship, the Office of Global Learning Initiatives and FIU Online quickly collaborated to launch a fully-online complement to the Medallion program in Blackboard. Fully online students must fulfill all of the same requirements to earn the Medallion, but can attend virtual events as well as those in the communities where they live.
Aleta hopes to start her own student club in the Fall, with the support of a new initiative out of Campus Life at Biscayne Bay which aims to involve online students in starting and joining clubs remotely. Aleta’s club will focus on saving dolphins by raising awareness about marine conservation, including through art. This environmental work is also the focus of Aleta’s global engagement project in the Peace Corps Prep program. Peace Corps Prep prepares FIU students who want to eventually join the Peace Corps, a federal agency which sends American volunteers abroad for two years, through the acquisition of language skills and community service experience. As the Global Engagement Coordinator for the program, Aleta both mentors a group of 5 newer Peace Corps Prep students and helps to develop service-learning opportunities for all members of the program.
One of Aleta’s favorite parts about being an online student is that “you get to know people for who they really are inside, their mind and spirit, enabling people to value each other for more than their just external appearances.” Now, with fully-online programs available through FIU’s global learning initiative, all online students can continue to engage with the multiple perspectives of their peers in and out of class!