School 2.0

Adult students turn to online education in pursuit of their dreams

school 2.0 ONLINE LEARNING Mary Lasher and Dawn Jarvis each embarked on their own journey of self improvement when they chose to return to school. Photo: Robert Eliason

Today, online resources are a routine part of our daily lives, from how we communicate to how we pay our bills. Online technology is behind it all, and for some, that includes the pursuit of higher education.

Gilroy resident Dawn Jarvis, 50, returned to school in 2010, and for the next two years attended both face-to-face and online classes before receiving her certificate in Early Childhood Education (ECE) in 2012.

Soon after, Jarvis secured employment, and was too overrun with the demands of her new job, her twin boys, and running a household, to continue with her educational goals.

In January a longtime friend told Jarvis that she’d enrolled in online college classes, reigniting Jarvis’s own desire to return to school.

“I guess turning 50, and thinking about my future, and the next 15 years I’m going to be working, I just wanted to better myself,” says Jarvis, who is currently enrolled in Life Skills for Higher Education at Gavilan College.

The online class provides the flexibility she needs with her full-time job, although she says the stress of understanding and utilizing the technology behind online classes, along with the time requirements of the course, did initially prompt her to consider dropping the class soon after she enrolled.

But Jarvis didn’t give in to her fear, and the motivation to finally achieve her longtime goal of returning to school overruled her initial doubt.

“I’m surprised at the amount of homework this instructor gives,” says Jarvis. “It’s been challenging, but I’m not going to give up. I’m just going to keep plugging along.”

Jarvis says she’s not above asking for help, and has reached out to her sons and online instructor for technology advice.
“I have no problem with the online, just shooting a message,” says Jarvis, smiling.

The 24 units acquired through the ECE certificate were transferred toward an Associates degree in Child Development, making the required 60 units Jarvis needs for her degree less daunting.

“I would eventually like to transfer to San Jose State, and get my bachelor’s,” says Jarvis. “Who knows, maybe a Master’s. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always go back to school. It’s never too late to fulfill your dreams and goals.”

Gary Stockdale

BALANCING ACT Gilroy resident Gary Stockdale juggles his educational goals with full-time work in San Jose and family time at home. Photo: Robert Eliason

Gary Stockdale, 42, also a Gilroy resident, was an automotive technician for more than 18 years when his first child was born in 2012.

With the birth of his daughter Ilana, Stockdale decided it was time to change careers, and the first step was obtaining a college degree.

Stockdale, who is currently enrolled at Mission College, believed acquiring a degree would “help open new opportunities not available to me.”

Over the past three years, he’s concentrated on general education courses, which can be transferred toward an Environmental Studies major program.

Stockdale admits that none of this would be possible if not for the support of his wife and children.

“My wife is very supportive of my continued education, and we often discuss our family, and how we can accommodate all of our family’s needs,” says Stockdale.

Although Stockdale has attended both face-to-face, and online classes, he admits that online classes allow him the flexibility needed for his schedule.

“I often do my schoolwork after the kids are in bed, or on the weekends,” says Stockdale.

He also views returning to school at this stage of his life an advantage, since he now takes his education more seriously than he did when he was younger.

“I am spending my money and time for this effort, so it’s on me to succeed,” says Stockdale.  
He also admits that this journey has been difficult.

“It can be very easy to fall behind, or get lost if you have difficulty with the material,” says Stockdale. “Homework can be challenging, but I do enjoy learning new information.”

According to Sabrina Lawrence, Distance Education Coordinator at Gavilan, the college has seen enormous growth in distance education, or online classes, since their introduction more than 15 years ago, and agrees with Stockdale that online classes pose challenges for many students.

“In an online class, you have to make sure that you don’t fall behind, you have to be very proactive, you have to be organized. I know that to be true,” says Lawrence, who admits that she’s the worst student when it comes to taking an online class.

“If you don’t schedule it, you just don’t do it,” says Lawrence.

A great teaching tool for online students at Gavilan are the orientation modules, which provide tips on keeping a schedule, staying organized, reviewing the week, and writing down due dates. Online tutoring is also available.

Even with the conflicts faced by students, Lawrence says online classes remain a popular choice for many wishing to continue their education.

“In an era where face-to-face enrollment has declined, online enrollments have done nothing but increase, and that trend is true at Gavilan as well,” says Lawrence.

Today, Gavilan offers 120 online classes per semester, compared to the 30 offered in 2008, when Lawrence first arrived at the college.

Unlike Jarvis and Stockdale, Morgan Hill resident Mary Lasher, 54, isn’t concerned about securing a degree to better her career, she’s already achieved a successful career, two actually.

Lasher spent 10 years with Los Gatos Police Department, and five with the County of San Mateo, as a 911 dispatcher. Prior to that she was an EMT.
“They were both really great careers, really, really, good,” says Lasher.

Four years ago Lasher decided to retire, and soon after, she spent her time traveling to and from New York, providing care for her ailing parents. It was only after they both passed away last year that Lasher allowed herself to consider what it was that she wanted. That’s when she experienced what she calls her, “now what? moment.”

Lasher admits she really didn’t have an answer, but Dana, her spouse of over 33 years, suggested she go back to school.

Excited by the idea, Lasher thought, “Why not?”

In January she enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University’s online class program, (SNHU), in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree in American History.

One question continually asked of Lasher has been, ‘what are you going to do with your degree?’

“I’m in the unique position where if I choose to do nothing with it, that’s OK,” says Lasher, adding, “It really made it even more enticing.”

Lasher admits that after a 30-year lapse, the advancement of technology, and how it’s being used for online classes, came as an unexpected struggle for her, adding that when she first attended college in 1980, “the internet hadn’t even been invented yet.”

“For the generation now, for a bunch of generations, it’s, [technology], just second nature,” says Lasher. “They don’t have to think about how to do that.”
Another stumbling block for Lasher has been time management.

“[The school] did say you will spend up to four to five hours a day, and they’re right,” says Lasher.

“Everything is due on Sunday, so there have been a couple of times when I am holed up all day Friday, all day Saturday, and into Sunday,” says Lasher, adding, “I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Even with the added challenges, Lasher is happy she chose to return to school, and to her surprise, her prior two years at Northwestern College resulted in a transfer of 57 units toward her Bachelor’s degree at SNHU.

“I’m halfway there,” says Lasher. “I’m actually surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. I just feel like my brain is more open.”

Returning to school at this point in their lives has brought both Lasher and Jarvis a sense of empowerment and pride, and they advise anyone, at any age, to at least give it a try.
“And if it doesn’t work out, that’s OK,” says Lasher.

As for Stockdale’s journey toward higher education, which he began more than four years ago, he has no regrets.

“A ‘two-year’ degree has been closer to four years now, and that is difficult,” says Stockdale.

“However, looking back, I have accomplished so much, and that keeps me going. If I didn’t decide to go back to school, it would still be four years later, and I would have not accomplished anything toward changing my situation.”

For information on Gavilan College’s online classes, go to:

Kimberly Ewertz
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About Kimberly Ewertz
Kimberly Ewertz is a freelance writer for South Valley magazine and Gilroy Dispatch.