The Online Student Connection Wednesday, August 06, 2014 Let’s face it. Most of us still equate higher education with sprawling campuses and desks in a classroom. So the idea of earning a degree entirely online can be a bit intimidating – if not downright daunting – even for those who enthusiastically embrace the power of technology in every other aspect of their lives. But, just because you aren’t sitting in one of those desks on a campus somewhere doesn’t mean you won’t have plenty of opportunities to connect with other students, who are for the most part, working adults with a great deal of professional know-how and practical advice to share. In fact, at Drexel University Online, we hear about those valuable connections every day from students like Janine D’Auria of Deptford, New Jersey, who recently commented that the high point of her online academic experience has been the chance to “learn from the experiences of so many people from different backgrounds. Their ideas and suggestions have helped me so much in my new job as a high school librarian!"While it’s true that initially most of our students choose Drexel Online degree programs for their quality and convenience, they soon realize that self-paced doesn’t mean anonymous or isolated, given the many ways their professors facilitate personal interaction, both in and out of the virtual classroom. Here are just a few of them.Collaborative ProjectsAlthough these projects may be a bit more difficult to complete from a distance (because of time zone differences and conflicting work schedules), they offer an excellent conduit for forging friendships with fellow classmates.To be sure, communication is key to effective project completion – whether through Skype, email, or over the phone. And, all of these channels pave the way for expanded – and sometimes lasting – relationships, as recent graduate Barbara Warden from Nine Mile Falls, Washington so aptly described when she said:“My favorite Drexel Online moment was when collaborating on a paper with a young man in California, he asked that I call to discuss the paper and we ended up talking for more than an hour. It was mostly about places to see in Seattle for a vacation he was taking his son on!”Social MediaWho doesn’t use social media these days to keep in touch with friends, colleagues, and even family members? Well, it can also be a wonderful forum for offline communication with online classmates. In addition to Drexel Online’s “official” sites, our students often create their own social media trails for bonding with each other. According to Meredith Shatoff, a student in our RN to BSN program, “A bunch of us in the program formed a Facebook group, which helps us stay in touch. In the beginning it was a great way to study. But, it’s also become a way for us to connect as friends; to keep each other’s spirits up when life gets difficult. And, now that we have this online relationship, we are making plans to meet in person, hopefully sooner than later.”Residential Requirements & Field TripsSome of our Drexel Online programs incorporate short-term campus residencies, along with work/study abroad options, both of which offer exceptional opportunities to build lifelong relationships and professional networks. Sterling Crescimanno, a 2014 bachelor's of Business Administration graduate from Park City, Utah, recently told us, “The only suggestion I have for improving the online business administration program is to add a few more campus residencies, even if they’re optional. They were a great way for all of us to get to know each other; in class, over a meal, or walking across campus.” Likewise, after Kevin Hannon– a Drexel Online nursing student– traveled to Paraguay for a “life-changing” community nursing experience, he recounted:“It was something I will never forget. And, not just because of all the amazing people of Paraguay, but also because of the other 11 Drexel students and two faculty members who were on this trip with me. When you go through something together that is so profoundly meaningful, you can’t help but feel a bond that can never be broken. I certainly didn’t expect this when I signed up for an online program.” Dr. Susan Aldridge is president of Drexel University Online and senior vice president of online learning at Drexel University. For more information on Dr. Aldridge, please visit www.drsusanaldridge.com.