When Paul Thur, a heavy equipment operator with the U.S. Antarctic Program, decided he wanted to change the direction of his career, Penn State World Campus was ready to help — with a world-class online geographic information systems certificate program.
"Last summer I took some classes in AutoCAD and liked it," he says, "So I figured that learning how to present data on a map would be something that I could do well." The World Campus made it possible for Thur to develop cutting-edge electronic mapping skills while living and working on the most mysterious and least-explored continent on the planet — Antarctica.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Thur has seen many address changes over the years. The one place that draws him back is the Antarctic. He keeps returning, because he loves the adventure and the friends he's made there. Living and working at McMurdo Station, 800 miles north of the South Pole, Thur spends his days compacting snow to turn it into white ice hard enough to handle an aircraft landing. Someday, though, he dreams of working with computers. The World Campus makes it possible to develop new skills without taking time off from work.
"The main appeal of it," Thur says, "is that I can take the classes and be learning a new career while I'm here making money."
In the mornings before setting out on the ice, Thur reads his class bulletin board. After work, he reads course work materials and downloads lessons. David DiBiase, senior faculty coordinator of the GIS Certificate program, says Thur epitomizes the successful online student.
"He's goal-oriented, completes assignments on schedule, keeps up with discussions, and helps classmates when he can," DiBiase notes, "and his occasional weather reports take a little bit of the sting out of winter here in Pennsylvania."
Thur learned about the World Campus certificate while surfing the Web. Although he'd never taken an online course before, he decided to sign up, a decision that he hasn't regretted.
"It really is a well-structured class. Our instructor, David DiBiase, makes it very easy to keep to a schedule," Thur says.
Once he completes the certificate, Thur hopes to use his new skills and knowledge to organize data collected by the U.S. Antarctic Program into an orderly database.
Thur's enrollment marks a milestone for Penn State Distance Education. Launched in 1998, the University's innovative World Campus now has enrollments from all fifty states, forty-three countries, and every continent on Earth.
"Paul Thur illustrates the possibilities of anytime, anywhere learning," says Dr. Gary E. Miller, associate vice president for Distance Education and executive director of the World Campus. "It truly does not matter where someone lives. A Penn State education is accessible anywhere in the world."