Recent eLearning graduate Shannon Oleson, of Plano, was able to perform as a professional dancer in San Francisco while simultaneously earning her bachelor's degree.
Some people might assume if they have a passion outside the academic realm, then they have to sacrifice doing something they love in order to obtain their degree, or vice versa. For Shannon Oleson, that wasn't an option.
Since she was a toddler, Oleson has loved to dance. Her parents enrolled her in pre-school dance classes when she was 3, and her passion for it grew as quickly as she did. She knew she wanted to be a dancer, but earning her degree was also a high priority. Through Texas Tech University's eLearning & Academic Partnerships, and specifically Worldwide eLearning, she was able to do both.
"Texas Tech's Worldwide eLearning allowed me to pursue multiple things," Oleson said. "I didn't have to pick between a college education from a good academic institute or a great dance institute. Being able to earn my degree online through Texas Tech and get a good education allowed me to also pursue dance to the fullest, and that's something for which I'm really grateful. I know that, had I lived 10 years earlier, it wouldn't have been an option."
In August, Oleson earned her bachelor's degree in University Studies with concentrations in business, finance and psychology while also dancing full time in San Francisco and being a nanny. A traditional college experience would never have accommodated such a hectic schedule. Earning her degree online gave her flexibility.
"I was in a contemporary ballet training program in San Francisco and danced from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for two years, so there's no way I could have done that while also trying to go to school full time," she said. "I also worked as a dance apprentice with Bruce Wood Dance Project, a modern dance company in Dallas, for a year where the schedule was similar to that in San Francisco. I also was able to nanny all four years while earning my degree, and that let me pick my schedule. I could plan dance around that, then I could schedule in school in the rest of my free time. It gave me total flexibility with my schedule, which was what I really needed."
Oleson also didn't have to attend an orientation or set foot on campus until graduation, unlike other online degree programs.
"I have always been a distance learner," she said. "The first time I ever made it to campus was when I visited in August to walk in the graduation ceremony."
Even while living in her hometown of Plano, she took the non-traditional route.
"I received some of my general education credits through online courses at Collin College," Oleson said. "I was able to transfer those credits to Texas Tech since both institutions have a great partnership that allows that to happen."
Clay Taylor, director of academic partnerships at Texas Tech's eLearning & Academic Partnerships, said Texas Tech's relationship with Collin College gives distance learners a variety of options when it comes to higher education.
"Texas Tech has long held a robust academic partnership with Collin College that supports the educational needs of the distance learning students," he said. "From our Texas Tech degree programs offered at the Collin Higher Education Center to our online programs, and now, through a new academic partnership for transfer students, students will be able to study at Collin College and easily transfer credits to the degree program and format of their choice at Texas Tech. Our goal is to be innovative and adaptable to meet the ever-changing needs of higher education, which includes providing a clear pathway for students in distance education."
The director of Texas Tech at Collin Higher Education Center, Jameshia Granberry, agrees with Taylor's sentiments.
"The eLearning & Academic Partnerships distance education programs provide a multitude of options for students at every step of their educational career," Granberry said. "Aside from distance learning opportunities, these programs provide student services ranging from academic advising, Blackboard support and various other student support services. Many of the degrees offered through eLearning & Academic Partnerships give students the opportunity to utilize the majority of college credit successfully completed, allow for the shortest route toward completion and the option to complete a Texas Tech degree at the lowest cost."
If taking the road less traveled during your college years seems daunting, Oleson offers sage advice.
"As long as you have the discipline and the rigor to sit and do your schoolwork, no matter what else is on your plate or is happening, distance learning is a great option that allows you to do whatever else you want to do and live wherever else you want to live," she said. "I think it can be combined with many other things to give people a unique college experience as long as they're OK with not having a typical one. I'm so grateful for my experience."
As for the future, Oleson sees herself continuing to do what she loves, while knowing she can rely on her education no matter what happens.
"I see myself continuing to dance," she said. "I'm looking into the possibility of getting a master's degree in dance. I'll definitely continue dance for as long as I can, which I hope and feel is the next couple of years. Having my degree is something I can either use to go back for a master's degree or continue to use to find work I'm interested in from a business standpoint. I have wonderful options."