A leap of faith
While many BGSU students were preparing for commencement ceremonies in May, Todd Lauer was getting ready to move to Stow, Ohio, for his job at Matco Tools, a Fortune 500 tool manufacturer. Matco hired Lauer in fall 2014 and he began working part time as a purchasing specialist while completing his classes. The company wanted Lauer to begin his full-time position as soon as he completed his last exam, so Lauer sacrificed the tradition of walking at commencement to jump start the next phase of his life.
This isn’t the first sacrifice Lauer has made in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree and a robust career path. Originally from Erie, Pa., he obtained an associate degree in 2005 and began working in the supply chain field. He worked in the trucking industry, eventually specializing in hazardous materials, before accepting a logistics coordinator position in Phoenix. However, despite his knowledge and work ethic, it became clear to Lauer that he couldn’t advance his career without a bachelor’s degree.
“I had an incredible boss who told me that I could do his job, but I would never have his job without further education,” said Lauer.
He found just what he needed in BGSU’s Supply Chain Institute, so he took a leap of faith, quit his job, sold his house and moved to Bowling Green.
“It was an enormous lifestyle change,” said Lauer. “I went from being a home owner with a decent salary to living in a one-bedroom apartment, and from a respected employee to being back in the classroom. But I knew I had to make this choice to have not just a job, but a career.
By the numbers
Lauer is correct in his premise that academic credentials are key to success.
A 2013 analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center shows the earnings gap between young adults with and without bachelor’s degrees has stretched to its widest level in nearly half a century. The report found that not only does a college degree typically yield much higher inflation-adjusted earnings than before, but a high-school diploma also is now worth less.
Yet Ohio continues to be plagued by low levels of degree attainment. Fewer than 25 percent of Ohioans have a bachelor’s degree, ranking Ohio an alarming 38th in the nation. These numbers are causing government officials, educators and prospective employers a great deal of concern when it comes to building vibrant companies, communities and economies.
Furthermore, it has become the case that going to college isn’t the central challenge, but rather completing college is the elusive goal for many students. According to research from the William T. Grant Foundation, across the nation more than half of students who begin a four-year degree program do not graduate, and at community colleges only 33 percent of students successfully earn an associate degree. These people fare no better in the labor market than those with only a high school diploma.
“Graduating from college isn’t always the straight trajectory you might imagine,” said Dr. Barbara Henry, BGSU assistant vice president for nontraditional and transfer student services. “A rapidly increasing number of our students have a complicated history with higher education. They often have completed some classes at another institution, are worried about what credits will transfer, have some existing debt, and doubt their ability to succeed. Others are adult students looking for degree attainment or completion while juggling jobs and families. They are all busy, resource strapped, and yearning for more.”
A helping hand
Henry said what these bright and motivated students need is nothing more than a helping hand, but one that remains available throughout the course of a student’s time at BGSU.
“It is often assumed that the biggest hurdle to college is cost, but that is just one part of the puzzle for nontraditional, adult, online and military students,” said Henry. “Many resources and services at a college are designed to serve the traditional, four-year student who graduates from high school, moves to campus, and is able to take advantage of all the school has to offer.”
In comparison, nontraditional, adult, online and military students do not have easy access to campus-based services. They may be off campus more than they are on campus, making it difficult to manage the decentralized nature of higher education administration. They often also need to manage additional bureaucratic and logistical challenges such as service records, deployment orders, transcript requests, child care and complicated financial aid and grant formulas.
Lauer praises the efforts of Henry and her team at BGSU’s Nontraditional and Transfer Student Services (NTSS) for recognizing and mitigating these challenges.
“Dr. Henry and everyone at NTSS make it clear they want you to succeed. They helped me understand the entire college application and matriculation process and provided assistance when things didn’t go right. It was a huge transition for me to go back to school, and they were there for me every step of the way, from applying, to registering for classes, to managing the paperwork and accounting requirements.”
As a nontraditional student himself and an NTSS adviser, Geoff Roberts ’14 pulls from his own experiences to assist students like Lauer. Roberts completed about a year and a half of community college before joining the U.S. Army as a cavalry scout. He was deployed to Iraq twice, and when his term of service in the 82nd Airborne Division expired, he became a student at BGSU when he saw how the University consistently achieved high rankings for being a “military friendly” school with an emphasis on career experiences and preparedness.
“It is important for nontraditional students to have a single resource to contact with any questions or concerns. My own adviser was Eric Buetikofer, who also served in the military, and he served as my coach and got me engaged with BGSU. With his efforts, the University became more than a place to take classes, it became a community and home even though I didn’t live on campus.”
Roberts is currently pursuing master’s studies in college student personnel and is grateful for the top-down support for nontraditional, adult, online and military students at BGSU.
“President Mazey has hosted meetings for NTSS students and staff to ask what the University needs to do in order to allow students to succeed,” he said. “My colleagues at other institutions can’t even imagine the president asking for such input, let alone bringing University resources to bear for suggested ideas that create a climate for nontraditional student success.”
As the earnings gap between young adults with and without bachelor’s degrees has stretched to its widest level in nearly half a century, BGSU’s outreach to nontraditional, online, adult and military students is crucial for a robust region, state and nation.
NTSS has recently completed a survey of nontraditional, adult, online and military students to identify additional areas of concern and difficulty for them.
“The more data we gather, the more responsive we can be,” said Henry. “Our work is imperative to help the vast number of students who have discovered they need a degree to make better lives for themselves and their families, as well as their communities and our state.”
A piece of the puzzle
One area that has already been identified as critical to nontraditional, online and military students as well as traditional students is the availability of online classes.
While BGSU has offered a comprehensive selection of courses and degrees online for some time, a new ‘eCampus’ initiative could prove to be the final piece of the puzzle for students seeking online degree completion.
“eCampus is designed to meet the needs of the quickly growing number of working adults who want to earn a new bachelor’s degree, complete requirements for a degree program they previously started, or pursue an advanced degree,” said Dr. Paul Cesarini, executive director of the BGSU Center for Faculty Excellence.
Cesarini said that online courses at BGSU and other four-year colleges are still based on the traditional academic calendar year.
“The entire higher education model supports students who begin their academic careers in the fall following high school graduation and assumes steady progression through degree completion,” said Cesarini. “That scenario is rarely the case for today’s working adults who need to make education decisions based on work and family obligations.”
eCampus paves the way to success by adapting registration, course offerings, billing schedules, and financial aid based on the complexities of working adults’ lives. Instead of a linear schedule that presumes fall as an entry point, programs in the eCampus model will have a rotating schedule so students can begin a new program at the beginning of any of the eight-week class cycles. Then, they can make steady progress through degree completion without the constant worry of having the next class available in their degree program, or that traditional financial aid can’t be applied to summer classes. They can temporarily delay degree progression after completing any eight-week session, and then resume their coursework at the beginning of another session without losing any credit or progress.
“We want to remove all of the logistical, administrative and geographical barriers so our students and faculty can focus on learning,” said Cesarini. “This strategic, cohesive approach to online education will serve adults with full-time jobs, military personnel who are always awaiting deployment across the world, and faculty who want to provide active engagement and quality education to this growing population of students.”
Many of the programs in the eCampus are existing online offerings at BGSU, including a bachelor’s degree in learning design and technology, a graduate education program in assistive technology, and a nationally ranked master’s degree in criminal justice. Teachers will also be able to choose from master’s programs in classroom technology, curriculum and teaching, and learning design. Additional programs will be added to the eCampus model based on feedback from the initial program offerings.
Lauren Clark ’13, a first grade teacher for Kenton City Schools, applauds the University’s efforts to provide a more cohesive and flexible online education experience to students.
“Pursuing an advanced degree while working is definitely a huge challenge,” said Clark. “I teach all day, tutor or work on lesson plans with colleagues after school, have dinner, and then dig into my online classes.”
Clark uploads videos of lectures, writes papers, participates in group projects and completes research papers. She also works a part-time job on weekends. The pace is relentless, but she is determined to meet her goal of earning a master’s degree in reading.
She said the eCampus model would greatly benefit students like her.
“When you have a full-time job, there are semesters where a full class load just isn’t possible,” Clark said. “The shorter eCampus eight-week sessions and the ability to start and stop between sessions will provide a level of flexibility that adult students need.
BGSU has become a magnet for students interested in the growing field of aviation. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that during the next few years nearly 40 percent of employees in large aviation and aerospace businesses will be eligible for retirement, creating enormous opportunities for people with bachelor’s degrees in flight technology and operations, aviation management, or aviation engineering technology – all of which are offered at BGSU.
The University has the added distinction of being one of only two universities in the country with an airport on campus. A new partnership with North Star Aviation will provide greater opportunities for students, along with helping fill the country’s growing need for trained pilots and employees with aviation industry skills.
According to Dr. Venu G. Dasigi, Dean, Interim for the College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering, the agreement enables BGSU to expand the aviation program without increasing University costs for new equipment and additional personnel.
North Star invested almost $3 million to build a new aviation facility at BGSU and in April 2015 opened a nearly 17,000-square-foot facility on East Poe Road that includes classrooms, a simulation space and aircraft hangar. The company will provide flight instruction for the flight school, and BGSU will continue to provide faculty oversight for the program.
“The BGSU program is really amazing, with professors who care and very detailed instruction,” said Abdoulie Jaiteh, a junior who traveled from the Gambia, Africa, to study aviation management and operations. “I was an air traffic controller and airport safety inspector in Gambia, but knew I needed more education to advance my career and broaden my scope and opportunities.”
An online search provided Jaiteh with the information he needed to choose the University’s program. And while the program’s merits are what drove Jaiteh’s decision, it is the campus and community atmosphere that makes him now call BGSU home.
“I will not be able to return to Africa until I graduate, so I am grateful that people make me feel very welcome here including my former roommate, also an international student, my host family here in Bowling Green, and families in Vickery and Clyde,” said Jaiteh.
Jaiteh described an incident that he said is illustrative of his BGSU experience.
“I met a fellow student at a service-learning activity in the fall 2013 and after a few other meetings in hallways, she and her family extended an invitation to me to spend Christmas with them. I stayed eight days with the family, and they had me back last year as well.”
Adult students aren’t the only ones who need flexible and accessible online options. Traditional students like Tom Ramski ’15 turn to online classes to balance degree completion with the need for co-ops and internships.
Investing the time in such experiences is extremely worthwhile for students. In a recent Marketplace and Chronicle of Higher Education survey, there was a clear message from employers: the single most important credential for recent college graduates is on-the-job experience through co-ops or internships.
Ramski, an aviation management and operations major, is well aware of this connection and received an excellent offer from Frontier Airlines for a co-op position during the last semester of his senior year.
“Rather than choosing between a valuable co-op experience and completing my degree on time, I did both,” said Ramski. “I moved to Denver, successfully completed my remaining courses online, and was able to secure a full-time position with the company when I graduated.”
Ramski credits BGSU with being responsive to student needs when they don’t fit a traditional path.
“Not only did I need assistance managing this co-op and online combination, I previously completed about two years of study at a community college and the University really helped me with all of the transfer materials, registration and planning to make earning my bachelor’s degree possible,” he said.
“Additionally, the fact that Bowling Green has this program is remarkable. Aviation management and operations is a growing field, and the University has made a commitment to positioning students for success in an expanding sector.”
Home away from home
This welcoming environment is something that Shrinkhala Upadhyaya, a doctoral student in media and communication, also appreciates and tries to create for new international students at BGSU.
“I was a bit worried about living in Bowling Green because it is so different in size from where I grew up in Delhi, India,” said Upadhyaya. “However, this very difference has been quite enjoyable. I always feel very safe on campus and in the community. I can stay late at class, take the shuttle, and never worry.”
Upadhyaya has also enjoyed the attentions of a Bowling Green host family who takes her to events and festivals and invites her to their home for meals and holidays. She extends this welcome to new international students as an International Student Ambassador with the Office of International Programs and Partnerships.
“The staff at International Programs and Partnerships goes out of their way to ease the transition for international students by providing any help needed to navigate the complexities of international travel, the immigration process, insurance needs, housing, transportation and registration,” she said.
“I feel like it is important for me to return the support I received by welcoming new students.”
In addition to the strong sense of community, Upadhyaya appreciates the approach to education at BGSU.
“I really enjoy being both a student and a teacher here,” she said. “The classes are participatory and engaging with students who take a great deal of responsibility for their education.”
Upadhyaya said it is an exciting time to be part of the University’s School of Media and Communication.
“BGSU is already very well-known for its strength in this discipline. In fact, I came to the University on the recommendation of a University of Delhi visiting faculty member who graduated from BGSU and held his professors here in such high esteem. Now with the University’s investment with renovations in South Hall for the school, BGSU students will be poised for leadership and success in this vibrant field.”
An essential component to facilitating degree completion for nontraditional, online, adult and military students is changing the campus structure to accommodate the needs and schedules of students who don’t live on campus full time.
The School of Media and Communication and aviation studies aren’t the only programs getting a boost on campus. The University is also expanding the reach of high impact areas such as business analytics and photochemical sciences.
“It is important for BGSU to remain on the cutting edge of academic offerings,” said President Mary Ellen Mazey. “The University has a responsibility to provide students with an education that positions them for success within a changing marketplace while also providing the region, state and nation with an educated workforce that allows the United States to be a leader in the global economy.”
“Big Data” has become an important buzzword for business executives who are collecting data and learning how to analyze it to make better decisions in a competitive global economy that doesn’t allow room for error. At BGSU, students majoring in business analytics and intelligence learn to make sense of these increasing amounts of data and are in high demand by organizations seeking to apply analytics to their activities for increased effectiveness and profitability.
“On a daily basis we are increasing the amount of data produced by businesses, social media and machines, at a rate and level of complexity many companies are not prepared for,” said Dr. Arthur Yeh, chair of applied statistics and operations research. “Our students acquire the skills and experience to identify questions to ask in order to make sense of these increasing amounts of data.”
By 2018, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the United States is expected to have a shortfall of 140,000-190,000 people with critical analytical skills. With the only AACSB-accredited business school in Ohio that offers a specialization in business analytics and intelligence as well as a master’s degree, BGSU is a leader in meeting this urgent societal need.
Armed with a double major in business analytics and intelligence and supply chain management, December 2015 graduate Jordan Gilberg hopes to begin work immediately after graduation at Emerson Climate Technologies after completing several internships with the company.
“My business analytics skill set is definitely in high demand,” said Gilberg. “Companies cannot afford to make decisions based on intuition and assumptions, they need people who can drill through layers of data and possible biases to provide clear-sighted analysis and recommendations. With the great instruction from my professors and ample opportunity for hands-on experience, I am confident I can make great contributions in this field.”
Another field where you will find BGSU students making a difference is photochemical sciences. A new director for the Bowling Green State University Center for Photochemical Sciences plans to raise the visibility and outreach of the center at the local, regional, national and international level.
Quality academic programming in emerging and dynamic fields such as aviation, business analytics and intelligence, and photochemical sciences makes BGSU a top choice for students and faculty from across the country and around the world.
Dr. Malcom D.E. Forbes began his role as the director of the BGSU center in July 2015. He joined the University after 25 years of research, teaching and mentoring scientists at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill Caudill Laboratory.
“We look forward to Forbes’ expertise at acquiring funding for research and development,” said Dr. Michael Ogawa, vice president for research and economic development and dean of the Graduate College. “BGSU will benefit from his extensive work with the National Science Foundation and the network of collaborations he has developed at UNC.”
The BGSU center brings together research faculty from the Departments of Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, and Biological Sciences who share interests and expertise in the interaction of light with matter. Research has resulted in practical applications such as the use of light to induce chemical reactions, design of sensors for explosives and drugs with light-based readout.
In addition to the interdisciplinary research, Forbes and the center faculty will oversee a vibrant and unique doctoral program in the photochemical sciences that currently comprises about 55 students.
“The center has a rigorous and deeply scientific environment,” Forbes said about his decision to take the position. “There is already a great nucleus of people in place at BGSU.”
The collaborating faculty include Dr. H. Peter Lu, an Ohio Eminent Scholar who has made significant advances in high-resolution microscopy that allows single enzyme molecules to be studied as they undergo their structural changes while catalyzing chemical reactions. His contributions were recently recognized by his election as a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Forbes plans to leverage the successes of the past and expand the collaborations across disciplines to help the center “grow up and out.” Over the next several years, he looks forward to adding at least one senior-level scientist to the faculty, and several young faculty, allowing him to mentor the next generation of leaders in the industry.
Changing lives at BGSU
“This certainly is an exciting time at BGSU,” said outgoing BGSU Board of Trustees Chair Fran Voll ’68. “Leaders, faculty and staff at the University are actively seeking ways to build upon the foundation developed over the last 100 years of student access, support and success. With these fundamental values in place, BGSU provides a warm and welcoming environment to a growing population of nontraditional, adult, online, transfer, international and military students as well as students interested in some of the most cutting-edge academic programs.”
Junior Justine Logan fits many of these emerging student demographics. She enrolled in community college after high school, juggling three jobs while attending classes. Looking for more meaning in her life, Logan made a six-year commitment to the Air National Guard and is a munitions specialist for the 180th Division. She completed her associate degree at the community college on base, and then transferred to BGSU to complete her bachelor’s degree. Logan is now a student in the School of Media and Communication and a member of the Kappa Kappa Psi honorary fraternity.
“BGSU is the place that will allow me to make my dreams come true,” she said.