2016 Online Outstanding Graduate Student

Our third winner of the Online Outstanding Graduate Student Award is Mark Garascia.  Mark was nominated by his professor, Dr. Mary G. Beckmann. Dr. Beckmann said of Mark, “After having Mark in one of my classes I noticed immediately that he was a leader, he contributed often, encouraged others to participate, and asked questions that led to my revising some of the assignment directions. Within his discussion posts Mark shared that he was a volunteer, a tutor, was involved in the community, and was a regular bowler – I’m not sure how he balanced the commitments but he was definitely a leader in many areas. It isn’t often that someone stands out in a class the first week as Mark stood out.” Learn more about Mark and his motivations: 


Why did you want to do your degree online?

There are a few reasons why I wanted to get my Masters of Social Science Education degree online. The ability to work at my convenience and in the comfort of my home was a major attraction to wanting to complete my degree online. My schedule is both busy and sporadic based off of my teaching requirements and extracurricular activities that I participate in. I needed a program that would allow me to work on school work when it was best for my schedule. I had also completed my MBA at Webster University taking a percentage of my classes online. I found that I was able to have a high degree of academic success in the classes I enrolled in online. This gave me confidence that I could do well and give my best efforts in the online environment.

What advice would you give students who are considering getting their degree online?

I would advise students considering getting their online degree to make sure they can be self-directed and motivated in order to succeed in the online educational realm. There is a huge component of time management that is required to be successful in an online course. It is very nice to have the convenience to complete assignments at your leisure, but it is also conducive to want to put things off and procrastinate. I think there is a mindset that taking a class online is easier than taking one in-person. I can assure that online classes are difficult for many of the same reasons an in-person class may be, plus some additional components that may not be considered. It is imperative to log in on a daily basis in order to be successful in an online class. I am not sure that everyone realizes the almost daily commitment it takes to stay on top of assignments in the virtual classroom.

What was the hardest part about doing all of your coursework remotely?

The hardest part about doing all of your coursework remotely is the lack of interaction at times between peers and instructors. Two of the best online instructors I had were Mary Beckmann and Lauren Schoellhorn. What set them apart from other instructors I had was their willingness to communicate outside of the normal channels of communication within the context of the online environment. They were always willing to answer questions and clarify expectations with texts and phone calls that made understanding learning objectives so much easier. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get that kind of support when needed urgently in many situations. This is why it is so important not to procrastinate and wait until the last moment to do coursework.

We usually recommend that online students set a time and place to “go to” class. Did you do this and can you give us some details?

Many of the courses I took dictated the times I had to “go to” class based on when assignments were due. A typical course would involve some initial discussion posts to be up by the middle of the week followed by responses and weekly assignments to be completed by the end of the weekend. Sundays essentially became my day to do homework. Over the past 5 or 6 years I have spent almost every Sunday in front of my paper working on various papers, presentations, and projects. I found it imperative to be in a room that was devoid of distractions. Unfortunately, any computer connected to the internet is loaded with opportunities to get away from the task at hand and browse the internet for various things that can seem more interesting that a particular assignment. As I progressed in my online academic experiences I made sure to schedule break times for myself that would serve as a result for different benchmarks I set while working on coursework. It is not realistic to think of doing an entire week of graduate work in one long sitting without stopping.

How long did it take you to feel comfortable with the fact that you would never see your classmates? Do you feel you got to know some of them better than others throughout the program?

I do not think it took that long to feel comfortable with the fact that I would never see my classmates. I think it is much more difficult to accept the fact that you will not see your instructors. Doing group work online was a difficult proposition in the courses where it was required. Trying to get together with people in different time zones and country was quite a challenge, but it also led to an opportunity to get to better know some of my classmates. There is definitely a difference in how we portray ourselves in the discussion boards in comparison to how we can communicate in group texts and e-mails. After a while you start to notice some of the same names appearing on your class rosters. There were several students who I had multiple classes with that helped empathize and challenge me to be a better student. I really appreciate the relationships that were formed with some of my peers that I respect highly on both an academic and professional level. It always makes things a little easier when there is someone who understands the same experiences.

How did you approach your class on a daily basis – did you have a set pattern for accessing certain tools or parts of the course each day?

The main thing I tried to do on a daily basis was to make sure I logged in and kept up with the discussions. I had general routine of looking over the weekly learning objectives and making sure I understood everything that was expected of me. Early in the week would be the preparation in terms of readings, videos, or research for the upcoming assignments to be completed later in the week. I always tried to get my participation early so that I could respond to each person who took the time to comment on my posts. I definitely would look forward to having those conversations inside the class to see what my peers and instructors thought. I think the more important skill to develop is the ability to adapt to different course expectations. Each course and instructor has different routines and expectations and it is imperative to learn to adapt to the priorities of the instructor so that academic success can be achieved.

What was your most memorable course(s) and instructor(s)? 

I mentioned both Mary Beckmann and Lauren Schoellhorn earlier as my most memorable instructors. They both went out of their way and were so flexible with students which made all of the difference in the world. Having an understanding instructor is an essential aspect of the effectiveness and enjoyment of a particular course. It can be so frustrating when something needs to be clarified and instructors were not as available or helpful as I would have preferred. Mary and Lauren never made me feel like I was bothering them (even though I probably was at times). They were always so positive and willing to help that in encouraged and motivated me to do the best quality work I could produce rather than just submitting the minimum for a grade.

I had Mary Beckmann for EDTC 5460 which was not a class that was required for my program of study. I was unsure at the time why I was enrolled in that course and what I would get out of it. The highest compliment that I can give her is that she made me look forward to completing my work. It was reassuring to actually enjoy doing the assignments and working on the skills she was helping me develop with her instruction. Mary reminded my how much I love to learn and it is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

I was lucky enough to have Lauren Schoellhorn for four classes in the MA in Social Science Education program including my Capstone. Lauren has been such a positive influence on my education and future professional aspirations. Lauren was always knowledgeable and engaged whether she created the class or was tasked to teach a course that someone else developed. Often times I thought Lauren was prouder of my work than even I was. She has provided me a role model in terms of the type of teacher I want to be serving students to the best of my ability. I have already incorporated many elements of her teaching style within my own classroom and can confidently say I am both a better student and teacher as a result of having so many classes with her.

Would you encourage fellow online students to come to the main campus commencement?

I would definitely encourage fellow students to come to the main campus commencement. It is a memory that will be cherished forever to think back of that feeling of walking across the stage to receive your degree. It makes all of the late nights, papers written, and articles researched worthwhile when your name is announced. It is a source of pride that is unparalleled in my experiences. If you do not want to do it for yourself, I would recommend doing it for your loved ones. They have more than likely made numerous sacrifices throughout your academic journey to finish the degree. They are just as proud and deserve the satisfaction of seeing you walk across the stage to get the recognition you worked so hard to achieve.