UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Barbara Van recently became the first student to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in organizational and professional communication, a Department of Communication Arts and Sciences program offered only online through Penn State World Campus. Launched in 2017, the major currently has 23 students enrolled.

Ranked in the top 10 for best online bachelor's and graduate programs by U.S. News & World Report, Penn State’s World Campus offers more than 150 accredited graduate degrees, undergraduate degrees, certificates, and minors.

According to Avis Kunz, senior assistant dean for online education and outreach in the College of the Liberal Arts, World Campus programs “are ideal for nontraditional students or those who have acquired credits from another institution and want to finish their degree.”

The college offers more than 230 courses — two associate degrees, 17 undergraduate majors, and four master’s degree programs — online via World Campus.

“I learned about Penn State World Campus from a friend of mine, who was enrolling in one of its programs,” said Van, a 31-year-old server residing in upstate New York. “I was halfway through completing a communication degree at the University of North Carolina Wilmington when I moved to Maryland. I didn’t want to have my studies interrupted while moving from North Carolina to Maryland, so I jumped at the opportunity.”

“Barbara is literally the reason why World Campus exists,” said Rose Petrunyak, Van’s academic adviser. “She found she was having an impossible time reaching her educational goals because her family was constantly on the move.”

During her first two semesters with World Campus, Van lived in two states and traveled frequently. She held a full-time job during her final two semesters, which she said taught her the importance of time management.

“Most of my work was done whenever I could find a spare moment,” she said. “I set a weekly schedule according to due dates and just kept to it.”

“Our faculty wanted to provide World Campus students with the same exceptional quality of education we provide in our residential majors, but with a particular focus on communication expertise for the contemporary workplace,” said Erina MacGeorge, professor of communication arts and sciences and director of the organizational and professional communication program. “Barbara is an excellent representative of the diverse and geographically dispersed students whose career goals we want to support. We are extremely proud of her accomplishment as our first graduate.”

Though unable to attend the Penn State fall commencement ceremony on December 21, Van said her Penn State degree and diploma will help her achieve her next goal: to work in the nonprofit sector.

“After traveling extensively, I realized I wanted to spend my time giving back to others as much as possible,” she said. “I am so incredibly proud and grateful to have had this opportunity. It is still hard to believe that I finally made it through the program!”