In recent years, online degree programs have become attractive options for professionals who are interested in advancing their careers while continuing to work and maintain family life. The online programs at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) have increasingly been gaining recognition as flexible delivery methods for students to obtain an IST degree independent of location, age or work situation. As a symbol of that success, at the IST Summer 2014 Commencement on Aug. 16, Ryan Bathauer stood as the first World Campus IST student marshal, along with Gary Heberling, the college’s first World Campus faculty marshal.
“I felt so honored and privileged to not only represent IST, but also the World Campus,” said Bathauer, who received a bachelor of science degree in IST with a minor in homeland security at the commencement ceremony. “I recognized the opportunity to be an outspoken advocate of this incredible program.”
Online IST degree programs are targeted to adult learners who are working full-time. The college offers a full, industry-focused and practitioner-informed portfolio of degree programs through online course work, including certificates and master’s programs in areas such as homeland security, information assurance and cybersecurity. U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 Best Online Programs rankings, released in January, cite Penn State World Campus as No. 3 for best online bachelor’s programs, No. 5 for best online graduate engineering programs and No. 6 for best online graduate computer information technology programs.
“Having an online student recognized as the college marshal demonstrates the college's commitment to and the importance of online learning,” said Pete Forster, assistant dean for online programs and professional education at the College of IST. “It really represents a recognition of the value and equality of online education.”
Bathauer, who lives in Fontana, Calif., with his wife and 21-month-old son, is similar to many online students in the sense that his career and educational path have not been as straightforward as many traditional college students and graduates. Shortly after graduating from high school, he was employed as a systems administrator and code analyst for NASA’s Supercomputing and High Definition Systems Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. At that time, he said, NASA was subsidizing his classes at California Institute of Technology. However, after the events of Sept. 11 all of NASA’s resources were directed at anti-terrorism efforts as well as supporting the Spirit and Opportunity rovers in Mars. He later started working at Raytheon, where he is currently an information technologist and software developer, and is responsible for designing and implementing technological innovations for various government agencies at a research and development facility. The company offered to pay for Bathauer’s education, and he decided to enroll in the bachelor of science in information sciences and technology program through Penn State’s World Campus.
“I just found immediately that it was the perfect solution to studying at a prestigious university while continuing to work full-time,” he said.
As Bathauer progressed through his major in IST, he pursued academic excellence and achieved dean’s list status every semester from 2012 to 2014. He said he enjoyed interacting with “world-class professors who are at the top of their field” as well as with his classmates across the globe.
“Penn State’s College of IST has provided me with an outstanding academic background, as well as with invaluable friendships with fellow students from across the world,” he said, adding that it was a great experience to meet those classmates in person at the graduation ceremony.
“Ryan was an excellent example of the high quality students that our online education programs attract and support,” said Mary Beth Rosson, interim dean of the College of IST and associate dean of Undergraduate Studies. “(In his student marshal consideration essay), he shared many examples of how our online faculty and services have helped to make him successful, adding a personal note to the successes we see in our enrollments and graduation rates.”
Bathauer said that he selected Heberling, an instructor at Penn State’s New Kensington campus, as the faculty marshal due to Heberling’s “very unique understanding of how to best present online content.” Heberling, who has been teaching at Penn State for 14 years, said that he was recruited by the College of IST in 2009 to teach online and signed up to teach “IST 210: Organization of Data,” which Bathauer took in summer 2012. Although Heberling wasn’t a fan of online courses at the time, he said, he decided to take up the challenge.
“I credit my success in teaching online to teaching presence; being accessible and approachable via email, Skype, Blackboard Collaborate, chat and telephone; and providing live online sessions once a week that are presented to a live audience of students but are also recorded for students unable to attend live,” said Heberling, who had 20 years of information technology (IT) experience before coming to Penn State. “Also, I have a strong industry background with the subject matter and this provides a high regard for my credibility to students at the World Campus who may be already be employed in information technology.”
Bathauer, who received the Corporate Up-and-Coming Award from Raytheon, said that he plans on using his IST degree to “further my career as an information technologist but also to move further into the software development realm.” He and his wife are expecting a second child in October, he said, so he wants to take about six months before making any new commitments. Nonetheless, he would like to return to Penn State to pursue a master’s degree next spring or summer.
Pursuing an IST degree through Penn State’s World Campus has been an invaluable experience, Bathauer said, and he would recommend the online program to anyone who is interested in furthering his or her education without disrupting personal and professional lives.
“If you want the best academic experience with the flexibility to provide for family time and full-time employment, there is no better place than Penn State World Campus,” he said. “You really can’t beat it. It’s just been an absolutely phenomenal experience.”