Shanole Stein found herself in a situation that a lot of people starting a family experience: she finished her associate's degree and wanted to earn her bachelor's, but as a new mother, it just wasn't practical to take on-campus classes.
She didn't let that stand in her way, though. When she learned about the online Liberal Arts bachelor's degree through Colorado State University OnlinePlus, she seized the opportunity to make her goal a reality. "I loved an online program because it offered so much flexibility and provided a way for a nontraditional student to finish college," she said. "It also was for people transferring 60 credits to finish their degree. And that's exactly what I was doing."
Raising small children, it was tricky at times to find time to integrate classes into her schedule. "I wasn't able to do any kind of school during the day because my family would come first; it was really important to us that I was able to stay home with the kids, (but) the online program allowed me to finish my degree while doing that." She appreciated having the ability to listen to lectures at 10:00 p.m. when the kids were asleep. And lucky for her, she had a supportive husband to take care of the family in the evenings when she'd hit the books.
She was surprised to find that a lot of people in her program were in similar life situations. "Almost everyone I talked to was nontraditional, like in the military, in another country, was a mom, was a dad. There were a lot of dads; professional, working dads that were finishing online."
In addition to sharing personal backgrounds with many other students, Shanole found that working with some of the same students through multiple semesters helped foster a feeling of community. "You just build that virtual friendship with fellow students." She said during group project chat sessions, they would often spend a few minutes discussing their personal lives, and posting pictures of themselves, their kids, and their pets. "We'd joke around, so it really felt like you kind of got to know those students."
She benefited from working with the same professors through multiple classes as well. "[It] was neat because they get to know you, and they get to see you improve! My favorite professors were always trying to help the students be the best they could be. And you could tell they had a passion for their profession."
Shanole acknowledges that it was an enormous challenge to finish her degree while sustaining her roles as a wife and mother, and although her program was online, it didn't make the coursework any easier. "It's more challenging because you have to set your pace. You have to be the one that pursues reading your book and listening to lectures instead of going to class; with online learning, you just have to be that much more prepared or willing to go the distance because there is a little bit more of a hurdle involved."
In the end, it was a challenge worth undertaking. She says her education improved her writing and critical thinking skills, and encouraged her to look at the world through a larger lens while developing her practical skills.
Because of her passion for learning, the support of her family, and the flexibility of the online Liberal Arts degree program, Shanole completed her degree, graduated with honors, and is now equipped with the education and credentials she needs to launch her career once her kids are in school.