Before all education was moved from in person to online, a community of online students at the University of Arizona existed prior to the pandemic. Students who attended classes in person but were moved online are not classified as online students. This confusion has led to the online community feeling detached from the school, with many opportunities to connect feeling out of reach.
Director of online student success Carmin Chan said she knew it was important that online students have their own identity apart from on-campus students learning online.
“The lines have become increasingly blurry and there are a lot of different flavors of online learning happening on the campus at this time,” Chan said. “Students that are a part of the Arizona online campus are fully online students, meaning their entire degree can be completed in a full online modality. That is different from some of the other flavors of learning happening for students on the main campus.”
RELATED: Stories of Resource Insecurity: How Dillon Hlohinec Reconciles his Past by Helping Others Plan for their Futures
Chan also acknowledged that her and the online advisors are aware of students feeling left out and not feeling as if they have a place in the Arizona Wildcat community.
“A student’s sense of integration or feeling connected to their larger campus community is really integral in the likelihood of a student persisting and ultimately graduating from an institution,” Chan said. “This is a priority to my team and the advisors … to help provide opportunities for an online student to feel connected.”
Chan and her team have been working on ways to connect online students with one another.
“We established a Facebook page about three years ago out of a response from our student population saying they wanted to have more opportunities for a peer-to-peer connection,” Chan said. “We chose Facebook based off feedback from our students about which social media platforms they were using … so that our staff could pour our energy into the platform they were most engaged in. We have almost 800 students that are in that group.”
Some students have also taken on the responsibility of reaching out to their peers online to encourage them to stay active. Rachael Martinez, a nutrition major, was an intern for Arizona Online and said she wanted to create an environment where students can feel free to express themselves.
“In this internship there is always something in the works,” Martinez said. “We have many short-term projects that relate specifically to student involvement. We will do a spirit week and try to rally the students together to show off their spirit.”
Other students like communications major Stacey Stringfellow were fighting for online students to have the same opportunities as on-campus students. While working her internship for the office of student success, Stringfellow discovered some inequalities the online community faced, particularly in honor societies, and realized that something must be done.
“When it comes to some of the academic honor societies, such as the communication honor society, I did not know that it existed,” Stringfellow said. “I had a 4.0 GPA, and you mean to tell me that I do not know that there is a communication honor society. I am not thought of … and that is a problem.”
Stringfellow said she hoped that the work she and the rest of Arizona online have done would reveal that there were not many academic differences between on-campus students and online students.
“We just want fairness across the board. I take the same classes that [on-campus students] take,” Stringfellow said. “I achieve the same grades, if not better, so why am I excluded from the things that you are able to participate in?”
RELATED: UA nursing student hits 1 million followers on TikTok with "OnlyPans," her comedic cooking videos
It may not be long before on-campus students move offline and return to classes in person. However, when these changes come, Martinez said she hopes that her and her colleagues' work would not go unnoticed.
“We are trying to keep that momentum going,” Martinez said. “We are trying to make the online voices heard more so that once the pandemic is over and normal operations resume that the online community is not forgotten.”
Follow Sean Fagan on Twitter