New Leadership Immersion Program Brings Online Students Face to Face


leadership completion program

A group of OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies students recently had the chance to do something they’d never done before—shake hands, look each other in the eye and sit in class together.

Coming from as far away as Santa Rita, Guam, the students left the Internet behind and met in person at the Leadership Development Experience, a five-day, immersive workshop held June 21-25 on OU’s Norman campus. Led by Dr. Paul Dyer, the class is one portion of the new Experiential Leadership Completion Program for Master of Arts in Administrative Leadership students.

The class, the first of its kind for the program, brought together students from a variety of backgrounds whose previous interactions had only been through emails and group message boards.

Over the five days, students worked closely with one another, building relationships and developing their leadership skills through interactive exercises and projects. In addition to classroom work, the students toured the campus and spent time together socializing on Campus Corner.

While the students appreciate the convenience and benefits of their online education, many relished the idea of meeting each other in person.

Shawn Green, a law enforcement professional from the Chicago area, completed his undergraduate work 20 years ago. While his online experience has been wonderful, he longed for a sense of community with his classmates.

“I was thirsty for a classroom experience,” Green said. “In my online studies, I tend to only communicate with people in law enforcement. This has allowed me to work with people from a variety of fields different than mine. It’s been a beneficial growth and learning experience.”

“It’s a great way to end my master’s degree. It feels like the things we learned, the things we experienced, will stick. I’m going to be able to apply it right away.”

Jake Schonacher earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration while at sea from another university through the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE). He’s been pursuing a MAAL from PACS while stationed at Naval Base Guam.

When the opportunity to meet fellow students and professors face to face presented itself, he couldn’t resist––even if it meant traveling across the Pacific Ocean and nearly half a dozen time zones.

“This is the first brick-and-mortar experience I’ve had in my higher education career,” Schonacher said. “Even though it’s a challenge, there’s a euphoric feeling when you combine online learning with this. I think the retention value of something like this is much better than just learning online.”

Gina Bertoletti of Moore, who works in business development, agreed. She said the class made everything she’d learned become real and tangible.

“It’s a great way to end my master’s degree,” she said. “It feels like the things we learned, the things we experienced, will stick. I’m going to be able to apply it right away.”

The Leadership Development Experience is one portion of a three-part completion program for MAAL students that also includes action research and a focused comprehensive exam. The program is another option for MAAL students to complete their degrees in place of a thesis or regular comprehensive exam.

The class is also open to graduate students interested in gaining leadership experience or pursuing the Administrative Leadership certificate.

“This is my last class,” said Tammi Holden, a chief nursing officer from Broken Arrow. “I only needed three hours, but I knew it would be beneficial. I thought getting one-on-one feedback and experience with the professors would help me grow.

“I want to be able to lead people, but more than that I want to be able to develop future leaders. This prepares me for that,” she added. “If you’re an online student and you get the opportunity to spend a class on campus, it’s completely worth it for your education.”

Dyer said nothing is more important to an on organization’s success than the quality of its leaders. He said the students’ eagerness to develop their leadership skills and the level at which they involved themselves in the activities was exciting.

“I’ve never been more excited about a learning event,” Dyer said. “To watch students engage at this level, support one another in the process and contribute their ideas and experiences was a genuine privilege.”

The MAAL Leadership Development Experience will be offered again in May and July of 2018. Talk to your advisor to see if this completion option might be right for you, or learn more about the online Master of Arts inAdministrativeLeadership.

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Tami Althoff

Tami Althoff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is a reporter with more than 20 years’ experience working for newspapers, including The Oklahoman. She has covered everything from breaking news to local music and art. She loves sports, especially OU football and basketball games, where she often embarrasses her children by yelling too loudly.