UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ten years ago, Massachusetts native Sophia Mazurczyk never would have imagined that she’d be part of a Penn State family.
But with both of her daughters opting to attend Penn State for their degrees — one earning a master’s in education and another earning a bachelor’s in landscape architecture — Mazurczyk moved to central Pennsylvania to be closer to them. This past weekend, she joined her daughters as Penn State alumnae, earning her master of professional studies degree in information sciences with an option in cybersecurity and information assurance that she completed through Penn State World Campus.
“I had always wanted to pursue my education,” she said. “I was halfway through my master’s program in Massachusetts when I became a mom. So when my kids left the house, it was time to resume my academic journey.”
A senior programmer and analyst at the Facilities Engineering Institute in Penn State’s College of Engineering, Mazurczyk lives locally in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. However, she was happy to be able to restart her pursuit of a master’s degree on her own terms through the College of Information Sciences and Technology and World Campus.
“Pursuing my degree through World Campus gave me flexibility,” she said. “I could do classwork anytime day or night. I didn’t have to travel to campus, or find classrooms, buildings or parking.”
Like Mazurczyk, John Pater is a central Pennsylvania resident and Penn State employee who earned his master of professional studies degree in information sciences with an option in cybersecurity and information assurance through World Campus this spring.
A programmer/analyst at the Carrara Education Technology Center in Penn State’s College of Education, Pater wanted to advance his career, but he wasn’t sure he could juggle full-time coursework with a full-time career. So he explored an online degree.
“The great thing about World Campus is that it’s flexible and that it works within your schedule,” he said. “But the experience is what you put into it; you can get as much out as you put in.”
Though he completed his coursework online, Pater wanted to get the full Penn State student experience. He got involved with extracurricular activities, like IST Benefitting THON and campus ministry, in an effort to get the most out of his program.
“I wanted to meet people in the college,” he explained. “I’m glad that IST and Penn State recognize World Campus students as their own. I’ve never felt like an outsider.”
Pater’s desire to connect with people within IST filtered into his online classroom experience. Recognizing that online students aren’t able to meet face-to-face regularly with their peers and instructors, he advises other online learners to put in the effort to virtually connect with their classmates.
“Push into those opportunities and get as involved as possible,” he said. “Schedule meetings with instructors, and get to know your cohort.”
Wendy McConnell, who earned her master of professional studies degree in enterprise architecture through World Campus this spring, shared Pater’s enthusiasm for connecting with others in the program online and was looking forward to meeting her fellow classmates at commencement.
“There are five of us [from the enterprise architecture program] coming this weekend, including Allan Rocha from Brazil,” she noted in a recent interview.
McConnell traveled from Baltimore to attend the ceremony. Coincidentally, graduation weekend was the first time that she had stepped onto the University Park campus as a Penn State student.
“I don’t think I could have completed the degree if I would have had to be in class [physically],” she explained. “The flexibility to work toward my goals at my own pace is the only way I could have earned this degree at this point in my life.”
Employed as the FEP information management director at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association in Baltimore, McConnell said that she will be the first employee in her company with an enterprise architecture degree. She explained that her achievement will change interactions and make communications with colleagues less difficult.
“It will give me a different voice,” she said.
A self-described lifelong learner, McConnell is happy to share an inquisitive mindset with her family. She holds two undergraduate degrees and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Baltimore. Her husband is currently pursuing his doctorate in information systems, and she has three children — a son who entered the U.S. Air Force after high school, a son who is a college junior, and a daughter who will be a college freshman this fall.
“I like to understand things at a different level [through higher education],” she said.
While McConnell has had interactions with multiple educational programs through her family’s academic careers, she was positively impacted by the Penn State experience as an online student. She credited one of her early instructors, Dave Fusco, as bringing the students together virtually once a week to talk through their assignments.
“He really made us feel like we were a part of a class,” she said. “It wasn’t asynchronous learning; we were together. I appreciated that.”
McConnell was so impressed with the online Penn State experience that she has recommended the IST graduate certificate program to at least four of her colleagues. Two have taken her advice and enrolled in the program.
“I’ve enjoyed the process [of earning this degree] as much as the learning,” she added. “Penn State creates that sense of community in World Campus that I haven’t seen anywhere else.”
The trio was among 47 graduates who earned their graduate degrees in programs offered by the College of IST through Penn State World Campus this spring.
Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about learning online.