Student airman uses Skype to attend class
Heather Bryant / Sun Star Reporter
May 3, 2011
In Alaska, distance education is an important part of the university system. With students spread across thousands of miles, long distance course work makes a college education possible for many.
This past semester, journalism major Monica Eusebio attended every single class, worked in class groups and interacted with guest speakers. The only difference between her and other students in the class is that she was more than 4,000 miles away, attending via the online video chat service Skype.
Eusebio, 25, is a staff sergeant in the Alaska Air National Guard. Her husband, Christian, is a sergeant in the Army. During her third year of college, Eusebio transferred to UAF from Shepard University in West Virginia.
The average rotation time for a soldier at Fort Wainwright is about three years, according to Eusebio. She knew it was a possibility that she would have to move before completing her degree, so she tried to save classes she could take online until her last semester. In October 2011, her husband received orders to move to Fort Stewart, Georgia by February 2011.
“It really devastated me,” she said. “Classes on campus are much more practical for me. I only had one semester left and I thought I was going to have to transfer.” Eusebio needed an upper-level class that would count as a journalism elective that wasn’t available online.
The Snedden Chair Lectures is an upper-level journalism class taught by the Snedden Chair, a yearlong guest professor appointment. Photographer Cheryl Hatch filled the position this past year. Her spring class, The Eyes Have It, was a semester-long class where each student devoted their time to a photo-documentary project. It met all of Eusebio’s requirements.
Eusebio had taken a class with Hatch in the fall of 2010 and received an email about Hatch’s spring class. Eusebio replied with email to Hatch explaining her situation and jokingly asked if it was offered via Skype. To her surprise, Hatch said she’d see if that would work.
“She was kidding but I didn’t know that,” Hatch said. “It’s a different interpretation to long distance education, I guess.”
Hatch cleared the arrangement with Brian O’Donoghue, the journalism department chair. The only stipulation was that Eusebio had to attend every class. According to Hatch, Eusebio is the one student in the class who has perfect attendance.
“The burden was really on Monica to show through everything,” Hatch said.
According to Hatch, the class really embraced the idea. A number of students “hosted” Eusebio on their laptops during class. One student, Monique Musick, hosted Eusebio on her iPad during a class trip to the Museum of the North so that Eusebio could share the experience.
Eusebio used the entire experience as her photo project. “Among the Silent Ranks” documents the life of a family dealing with a loved one’s deployment. Eusebio photographed her family packing up their life and making the long drive to Georgia. She has two children, Alexander, 1, and Alexis, 5.
The road trip to Georgia took the family more than two weeks because of stops to visit relatives. They drove more than 4,000 miles and spent five days on the ferry from Alaska to Washington. Eusebio had to plan around her class times, making sure she was somewhere with an Internet connection.
She Skyped in from a variety of places including her mother-in-law’s house in Los Angeles; a public library in Jacksboro, Texas; a hotel parking lot at Fort Stewart, Georgia and finally from her new home in Hinesville, Georgia.
One facet of the class that presented a challenge was when guest speakers also used Skype to speak to the class. However, Eusebio said that everyone was supportive of her arrangement.
“Not once did I feel like it was a mistake or that I wasn’t learning like I could have been,” Eusebio said. “I was there, I was present, I got the same information and value out the class as my peers did. I really felt like I was in the class with them.”
Eusebio believes that if this solution can work for her, it can work for others. She has a friend currently at UAF whose husband is deploying during the fall 2011 semester. She has a toddler and is expecting another child in October. It is her final year of her social work degree, and she is faced with either taking a break or transferring. Eusebio told her friend about her arrangement with the journalism department and suggested she get in touch with her advisor about a similar arrangement. Her friend’s request was granted and she will be able to move to be with family during her pregnancy and her husband’s fourth deployment.
“I think anyone who is motivated to finishing their classes and truly wants to do this can do it,” Eusebio said. “You just have to stay dedicated.”
Eusebio is proud to have made it to graduation. She started school when her daughter, Alexis was 1 year old. During her first semester, Eusebio was diagnosed with cancer. Her second semester was spent going through radiation therapy. She took summer classes while also attending technical school for the Air Force.
“I battled so many things during my four and half years in college and I just kept going,” Eusebio said. “I set my mind to a better life for my daughter and I and I have not stopped, I will not stop until I have my diploma in my hand. I am not the perfect student. In fact, this will be my first class to have absolutely perfect attendance, but I never gave up. I had so many opportunities and chances to quit and I didn’t. I had to set an example for my daughter. You never give up on your dreams.”