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Thirst for education, nature conservation bridges 8,000-mile gap

Lih Loo wasn’t looking for anything extraordinary during her search for a college education. In fact, her criteria were fairly straightforward.

Lih Loo
Lih Loo, left, at Mount Tahan, the highest peak in Malaysia

She wanted to attend an accredited, highly respected university. She wanted to enroll in a program that promoted environmentally conscious living. And she wanted to be able to mix her studies with travel to nearby parks and rainforests in order to explore and build her scientific acumen.

When Lih discovered Oregon State University and its award-winning natural resources program online, she knew she’d found her new school. There was one small hurdle to clear, though: Lih lives in Singapore, roughly 8,150 miles away from the OSU campus. Not even Antarctica is that far from Corvallis, Ore.

Thankfully, the power of online learning and, in particular, OSU’s Extended Campus (Ecampus) came to the rescue. The payoff was realized last June when Lih, 34, received a B.S. in Natural Resources as one of a record 386 Ecampus graduates.

“The classes have set the foundation for me to pursue a ‘green’ career. It prepares me to make the right decision in my personal choices and influence others to better our environment,” Lih said in an email. “It is a great pleasure to be able to interact with school faculty and students from Corvallis via Ecampus.”

The unlimited, borderless access to higher education proved to be the main perk of Lih’s studies because it perfectly suits her on-the-go lifestyle. Born in Taiwan, Taipei, she moved to Singapore at age 2, and then bounced between the two countries before living in New York City and Malaysia for various periods as an adult.

As an Ecampus student, she continued to move around and conduct research in Malaysian rainforests while being actively involved in the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) and Malaysian Nature Society.

Despite her hectic schedule, we caught up with Lih to get her thoughts on her Ecampus experience and what the future has in store for her now that she has a college degree:

How did you hear about Ecampus, and why did you decide to take its classes online?
“I found out about Ecampus through the OSU main website after much searching for a school that suits me. In Singapore, there is not much choice when it comes to tertiary education in the fields of ecology, forestry and nature conservation. The available universities do not offer flexible learning schedules. Recently someone published an article about the over-crowdedness of universities here, which explains the stringent admission rules.”

Have you ever visited Corvallis or Oregon?
“I have not, but I have read and seen so much about it in books and on the Internet that I feel like I have been there already. Oregon is truly a green living space with healthy forests, clean air and, most importantly, environmentally conscious residents.”

How did your friends and family react when you told them you were taking classes from OSU in America?
“They were happy for me. Some of my friends were skeptical of Ecampus, whether it is recognized in Singapore. I told them to rest assured, as I had done a background check on the school. Moreover, the two advisors I talked to prior to my enrollment, Jessica Cardinal and Marge Victor, convinced me that OSU is a trustworthy school. They are the best advisors I have had in my life.”

So what do you do for fun?
“I love exploring tropical rainforests and nature. I recently did a week of field research in Nanjenshan in southern Taiwan, climbed Gunung Tahan in Malaysia and I have traveled to Baileem Valley in West Papua last December. Other than exploring the natural sites of Malaysia, I enjoy doing urban activities such as eating out and visiting museums and art galleries.”

What was the most difficult part of taking American classes in Singapore?
“I presumed initially that the long distance between Singapore and America would be the most challenging part to my studies. The main struggle was mastering the Blackboard functions and finding out various Ecampus resources available online. Once I had mastered these techniques, I began to feel less of the distance barrier, and the world seems to be smaller in that sense!”

What’s next for you now that you’ve earned your degree?
“I am trying to secure a full-time job with the National Parks Board of Singapore, which oversees all parks and nature reserves in Singapore. I have volunteered with the board for three years now.”

[Editor’s note: In the weeks following this June 2011 interview, Lih landed a full-time position with Singapore’s National Parks Board and began her new career less than two months after graduating from OSU.]