Over the past 25 years, more than 36,000 people have earned their degrees online through Penn State World Campus, and there are another nearly 14,000 taking their courses online with professional and personal goals they are striving to achieve.

On September 15, National Online Learning Day, Penn State World Campus is recognizing its online learners and the employees who support them. Online learning is an integral part of Penn State's mission of providing access to higher education, as this way of learning can reach people who are not able to study at one of the physical campuses across Pennsylvania.

Online learners typically are balancing multiple responsibilities — a job, a family, and/or military service — and that is why the flexibility of an online degree program is perfect for them. They can get their Penn State degree by completing their course work when it’s convenient for them each week.

Helping students achieve their goals

After the factory where she was working closed, Caytie Roseberry wanted to use the opportunity to switch careers. The first step was to finish her education, but attending classes at a physical campus wasn't feasible. She has three children who needed their mother to be home. Roseberry enrolled at Penn State World Campus, where she found the flexibility, accessibility, and support she needed to be successful.

She earned a Bachelor of Science in Labor and Human Resources online through Penn State World Campus and completed an internship with the U.S. State Department. Roseberry graduated in May 2023, starting a full-time position in her desired field shortly after.

For online learners like Roseberry to be successful, staff in academic advising, admissions, financial aid, IT, and other services work to support them. Many faculty who teach on campus also teach students like Caytie online.

“The success of our students is our top priority. The expertise and dedication of our staff enrich and support the educational experience of our learners," said Renata Engel, vice provost for Online Education at Penn State. “Nothing means more to us than seeing our students in their caps and gowns celebrating their graduation. We are proud and inspired by their achievements.”

The students getting their bachelor's degrees to achieve their goals

Penn State World Campus undergraduate student Ethan Donlan wanted a world-class education along with student support and advocacy resources.

“Penn State has always been a university I’ve held in high regard, and Penn State World Campus was the best choice for me given my health limitations,” he said.

Penn State World Campus offers various student support services, including academic advising, disability accommodations, and technology resources.

“The college is always there to support you. Despite the limitations you may have, Penn State World Campus will help guide you through whatever challenge you may encounter," Donlan said.

An online degree program was a must for Serena Carlson when she decided to return to school as a recently divorced mom raising three children. She had a lot of responsibilities, and there was no time to attend college classes in person.

She wanted to work in the health policy field, and she wanted a rigorous program from a renowned institution that would give her the skills to launch a new career. She found the bachelor’s degree in health policy and administration offered online.

“I was a single mom at the time, and in-person learning was impossible while working full-time and supporting three young kids,” Carlson said. “The flexibility and rigorous curriculum were ideal for my needs.”

Master's degree students seek specialized knowledge

Professionals pursue master's degrees to further their knowledge in their respective fields. After spending time working with 3D printers and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machining, Tom Scapillato wanted to expand his knowledge with a Master of Engineering in Additive Manufacturing and Design.

The master’s in additive manufacturing and design program aims to teach students the fundamentals of additive manufacturing processes, develop their skills in metal additive design from start to finish, and prime graduates to be leaders in the fast-growing 3D-printing industry.

Scapillato set the record as the most-senior Penn State World Campus grad when he finished his master's program in 2023. At 81 years young, Scapillato has a lifelong passion for learning and hopes to inspire others to continue learning and working toward their goals. He plans to continue his education in the Doctor of Engineering in Engineering online through Penn State World Campus next year.

Fellow Class of 2023 grad Kristen Reese earned a Master of Business Administration, returning to school nearly a decade after leaving Penn State in 2009 to work full-time at The Hershey Company. She decided to pursue her education again after the birth of her son in 2017.

"He changed my world; I wanted him to be proud of his mother," Reese said. "I also wanted something more out of my career — I wanted to be the people I was supporting. So, I went back to school."

Reese finished her undergraduate degree at a local college and wanted to get her MBA from Penn State.

"My end goal was always Penn State," she said. "Penn State’s online program was perfect for me to balance being a mom, wife, friend, daughter, and co-worker."

From the military to the online classroom

Daisy Young said she always gravitated toward math and science. Young is a U.S. Navy civilian employee enrolled in the Master of Applied Statistics program offered online through Penn State World Campus.

"When I came to the States at age 13, I did not speak very much English, so I found that math was a universal language," the Indonesia native said.

Young is a military spouse and has moved across the country and world with her husband, who serves in the U.S. Army. While overseas, Young began to teach high school mathematics. When they returned to the U.S., she decided to pursue a career in STEM.

Young works as a mission analyst and supports the Naval Integrated Fire Control effort at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) in Dahlgren, Virginia. She expects to graduate in spring 2024.

“I think coming here as a first-generation immigrant and being the oldest child in the family, you get do a lot of ‘firsts,’ and that can be very daunting,” Young said. “But once I have accomplished the goals that I set for myself, it feels very fulfilling. So, if I could speak to my 13-year-old self, I would tell her to keep going out of her comfort zone, not to worry so much about making mistakes, live in the moment, and tell her she is doing awesome!”

Two-time Penn State grad and U.S. Army veteran Joshua D'Ottavio chose Penn State World Campus for his master's in homeland security because he wanted to further his education with a quality program without committing extra time to driving to and from a physical campus.

"I want to capitalize on all the possible opportunities this country has to offer because I am a first-generation American," D'Ottavio said.

D'Ottavio's hard work paid off, as he received the special designation of a Security Scholar at the RSA Conference (RSAC) in April 2023 before graduating in August. He is continuing his education online through Penn State World Campus in the Doctor of Engineering in Engineering program.

The faculty and staff who make online learning happen

The ability to serve the nearly 14,000 students in more than 175 degree and certificate programs requires dedicated employees. From the time when students first reach out to inquire with admissions questions to when they don their graduation cap and gown, staff and faculty are working to help them succeed.

Admissions counselors help prospective students with tasks such as the application process and other inquiries about choosing a major. Other colleagues in enrollment management services assist students with financial aid, registration, transferring credits, and other tasks to help them get situated and ready to start learning online.

While students are taking the courses, an array of staff is available to support them. Academic advisers provide support for their students, such as planning their degree path and choosing courses each semester. Student disability services counselors assist learners who need accommodations to help them be successful, and academic support specialists develop student success resources. Student Affairs staff strive to help students find success through career and mental health counseling and becoming involved in student organizations. They also promote diversity, equity, and inclusion among the student body.

A team of IT support professionals is available to troubleshoot tech issues and ensure seamless access to the virtual classroom. Behind the scenes, a team of professionals supports the instructional design and delivery as they work with Penn State faculty on course design and student engagement with learning content and their peers. The staff in program planning and management work closely with the faculty members to maintain high-quality academic offerings. And an experienced cadre of professionals spans the operational aspects of compliance, analysis, and finance.

Promoting the more than 175 degree and certificate programs and the success of these online learners is the duty of the marketing and communications teams.

Penn State World Campus is the real Penn State

Many faculty who teach online also teach in the classrooms at the University Park campus and other campuses across Pennsylvania. The academic degree programs are administered by the Penn State colleges and campuses, with the course content, labs, group discussions, and other resources specifically designed to be offered online.

For instance, Penn State's internationally ranked Smeal College of Business leads the Online MBA, the highest-enrolling program offered online. As other examples, the colleges of Education, Engineering, and the Liberal Arts offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs for online learners. 

When it is time to graduate, these online learners are welcome to attend the graduation ceremony of their college or campus so they can have the real Penn State experience.

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December 12, 2023 / 8:00 pm (EST) 9:00 pm (EST)