By Julia Selby Smith
Last week, 599 online and distance students graduated from Colorado State University. The celebrations involved much more than walking in a commencement ceremony—for some, it was their first time ever visiting CSU’s campus.
With graduates this spring hailing from 37 U.S. states, Canada, Europe, and Malaysia, CSU’s online programs make it possible for those living thousands of miles away from Fort Collins to earn a CSU degree. “People who wouldn’t normally be able to attend CSU are now able to study in our programs, with our expert faculty, thanks to the online format,” said Bruce Trameri, Manager of Student Success Services at CSU OnlinePlus.
To give the students a chance to celebrate with their peers, and to see the institution from which they graduate, CSU OnlinePlus hosts a graduation brunch and campus tour each spring and fall prior to commencement ceremonies.
“It’s important for our online students to have the experience of coming to campus, walking in graduation, and meeting the students, faculty, and staff they have corresponded with over the course of months and even years,” Trameri said. “Online students are a part of the CSU family, and we want them to feel welcome here.”
The highlights of this spring’s brunch included a speech from President Tony Frank, as well as a visit from CAM the Ram. “This was the first time we have been able to have Dr. Frank address our online graduates in person,” Trameri said. “It was really special for these graduates to hear from such an important figure of their university.”
The brunch also provides an opportunity to honor the CSU faculty who teach in online programs. Graduates are asked to nominate an instructor for the OnlinePlus Innovative Educator (OPIE) Award, which is presented to a faculty member who exemplifies outstanding instruction and relationship building in an online program. This spring’s OPIE recipient was Civil Engineering professor, Dr. John Labadie.
A student who nominated Labadie said, “It always appeared that Prof. Labadie invested a tremendous amount of energy in preparing lecture materials in a way that clearly communicated the concepts and ideas. In structuring his course materials, it was evident that his knowledge was not only on the cutting edge, but also that he maintained a keen awareness of the training needs of practicing engineers.”
CSU’s online students
Nearly 10 percent of CSU’s undergraduate and graduate degree-seeking students study in an online program, and their numbers are growing. This is reflective of the higher education landscape as a whole. A 2014 study found that about 13% of students in the nation study fully online, and they are increasingly choosing institutions more than 100 miles away from their place of residence.