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Life doesn't stop for ASU online students who want to better themselves

ASU online students enhancing their education on their own timetable

An ASU student interacting with an online course

October 22, 2015

Editor's note: This feature is part of a series profiling different slices of ASU's diverse population. Find more stories here.

Students finishing a college career later in life have a lot to contend with. Many have full-time jobs. Others have family obligations. 

ASU Online student Tony Bothwell has to juggle both, and also watch out for the occasional freeze ray attack.

Bothwell spends part of his days keeping an eye on his 3-year-old son, Lucas, whom he describes as “a fussy toddler,” while his wife is at work. That has led to something of a non-traditional soundtrack to his educational career.

“This semester so far, statistics and (web site design) have been to the tune of ‘Hotel Transylvania’ and ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ …” Bothwell said, referencing the popular children’s films. “Psychology 101 and graphic communications were both Spring A session, I remember those specifically always had either ‘Frozen’ or ‘Despicable Me’ in the background.”

Hence the freeze raysA photo of Felonius Gru, from the Universal Pictures Movie Despicable MeIn the Universal Pictures movie "Despicable Me," the freeze ray is the signature weapon of a character named Felonius Gru. It causes the people it is used upon to be temporarily frozen in their tracks. , which, during imagination time, Lucas will sometimes employ upon his unsuspecting father, causing a delay in studying.

“It’s worked out though,” Bothwell said with a laugh.

It continues to work out for Bothwell.

He’s a senior solution developer for Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization, in Sacramento, California. At age 39 he decided to complete his undergraduate work. Now he is the equivalent of a junior, earning his degree in graphic information technology online.

A picture of Tony Bothwell and his son, Lucas, in their California home

Tony Bothwell with his son, Lucas.

Photo courtesy Tony Bothwell

Bothwell is very successful — he writes highly valued automation software for Kaiser — but the lack of a bachelor’s degree has put a ceiling on his career trajectory.

“Not having a degree is literally the stopping point,” he said. “That will be a roadblock everywhere I turn from this point.”

In a couple of semesters that roadblock will be cleared for Bothwell.

ASU Online clears many roadblocks for its students. The program now has more than 19,000 students enrolled, and offers more than 100 degreesThe top degrees in the ASU Online program are psychology, criminal justice, electrical engineering, organizational leadership and health sciences..

"As a university, we're committed to helping learners everywhere achieve a quality education, said Phil Regier, University Dean for Education Initiatives at ASU and CEO of EdPlus. "We've designed our digitally-enabled courses and degree programs with the student experience in mind, ensuring that students have the tools they need to succeed from anywhere in the world.”

Those digitally-enabled courses place reading, videos, tutorials and coursework online in an easily accessible environment for students. Assignments typically are due once per week, giving students in various places — and timezones — plenty of time to complete each task no matter their personal schedules.

The flexibility is key. For Bothwell it means being able to work on his couch with his son nearby.

For Mi Young Lee, the flexibility allows her to balance the 12-hour shifts that come with a busy nursing job on a military base. She logs into ASU Online from Seoul, Korea, 16 hours ahead of Bothwell on the clock.

Lee, who is 38, is a nurse at the Brian Allgood Amry Community Hospital on the Yongsan Garrison, an American military installationBecause of its location, the hospital in which she works is considered a combat hospital. Should shots ever be fired on the Korean peninsula, it would be the main hospital for U.S. troops..

She is Korean and earned her nursing degree in her home country. But her goal is to become a nurse practitioner. 

A photograph of Mi Young Lee, at the hopsital in which she works, in Seoul, Korea.

For Mi Young Lee, the flexibility of online classes allows her to balance the 12-hour shifts that come with a busy nursing job on a military base. Photo courtesy Mi Young Lee.

“We don’t have that program in Korea,” she said.  As a result, her degree won’t get her into American nurse practitioner programs.

“This is my stepping stone so I can get ready and prepare myself.”

Because of the varied hours of a nurse, ASU Online allows her to work when she is free to do so. And Lee is not limiting herself to nursing classes. While enrolled at ASU, she is challenging herself to take full advantage of the breadth of offerings online, including a class she took this summer on world faiths. 

“It helps me open my eyes to understand different religions,” said Lee, who is Buddhist. 

A typical ASU Online student — if there is such thing — is not as physically far away as Lee. Forty-six percent of ASU Online students are in Arizona; another 25 percent live in California.  There are more women than men enrolled (a roughly 60/40 split) and about a quarter are working on graduate degrees.

Jerome Tennille plans to become one of them — right after he finishes his undergraduate degree this fall.

For Tennille, a Navy veteran and ultra marathoner who usually starts his day with a 5 a.m. run, ASU Online allows him the flexibility to get his education while serving a community for whom he has a passion.

He’s in line for a degree in operations management from ASU Online, and he’s already using the skills from his virtual classroom in his day job: coordinating volunteer efforts for a Washington, D.C.-based organization called TAPS, which helps what they call military survivors — the loved ones and friends of service members who have died while serving in the military.

“You can be a battle buddy, you can be a sibling, a fiancé, a spouse …” Tennille, 29, said. “We provide the services beyond the standard issuance of life insurance that a family might get from the government. We provide the emotional service.”

A draining job, to be sure. 

But after his day at work, he digs into his class assignments — this semester he’s taking a quality assurance class and working on his senior project — and sustains his focus for another couple of hours.

A photograph of Jerome Tennille

Jerome Tennille is a Navy veteran and ultra marathoner who usually starts his day with a 5 a.m. run. ASU Online allows him the flexibility to get his education while serving a community for whom he has a passion. Photo courtesy Jerome Tennile.

He admits that that can be tough, but he knows something about tough. Tennille postponed his studies to join the Navy three years after 9/11, at age 19.

After eight years in the military, including two deployments to the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Iwo Jima, Tennille turned, as many veterans do, to ASU for his college education.

“I wanted to be a part of a school that valued veterans …” Tennille said. “They embrace us, and I want to be a part of a school that would understand the culture and embrace that and provide the education that I wanted.”

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