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On a mission to ‘make tomorrow better than today’ for younger generations

Oregon State alum develops skills online to impact lives in his community and beyond

By Tyler Hansen

Nobody is defined by one thing.

This is true of Bobby Disler. He’s a proud husband and father, Navy veteran, tireless volunteer, social worker and changemaker in his community.

The roles differ, but a common thread unites them all: Disler is in the business of making a difference in people’s lives.

Serving others comes naturally to him, and he recognizes there is an ongoing need to sharpen his skills in order to have a lasting community impact. Much of his knowledge was gained in hands-on settings, including for organizations that support LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, such as The Trevor Project and AKT.

But when Disler decided to pursue more in-depth and theory-based skill development, he enrolled online with Oregon State University. That on its own was a feat worth celebrating for the first-generation college student. He also quickly realized that Oregon State’s online bachelor’s degree program in women, gender and sexuality studies was where he belonged.

“By the end of my first quarter, I knew I was in the right spot,” he says.

The benefits of Disler’s online coursework came in many forms. He developed connections with classmates and Oregon State faculty members that transcended distance. He completed a study abroad experience in London that enabled him to see the world through “endless lenses.”

And he gained skills that were immediately transferable to his everyday life including in the professional realm. Disler previously did programmatic work to support children and families in the state of Washington, and much like in his various volunteer roles, he helped create safer, more inclusive environments for everyone, especially those who are vulnerable.

“I’ve already seen the power of my (Oregon State) education in being able to have educated discussions with people about who we are and how it contributes to society.”

This work is especially important to Disler as he and his husband, Adam, aim to ensure their young daughter, Kare, is raised in a world that’s different than the one they grew up in.

“I think we all have a responsibility to make sure tomorrow is better than today, and through my OSU degree program specifically, I was given the tools to feel confident in doing that,” Disler says. “Being able to take this knowledge and share it with others, even outside of a formal setting, that’s how we slowly start making an impact.”

Community building, social work and social justice advocacy aren’t fields of work that follow a cozy 8-to-5 schedule. To make an impact, you often put in the effort in your everyday conversations, including with folks from vastly different backgrounds or who don’t share your beliefs.

Disler has experienced this time and again. Once, while volunteering at a local food pantry over a period of many months, he befriended an older woman whose lived experiences differed greatly from his own. Through conversations and a willingness to listen to and learn from one another, Disler and the woman challenged preconceived notions and built a connection based on empathy. They helped each other understand that everyone’s path is different.

“I’ve already seen the power of my (Oregon State) education in being able to have these … educated discussions with people about who we are and how it contributes to society,” he says. “You can’t go into it with the intent of changing somebody’s opinion, right? It has to be a conversation. You have to be able to grow just as much as they are, or this work doesn’t move anywhere. It doesn’t progress.”

A man and his husband sit side by side on the grass while tickling their laughing young daughter.

Bobby Disler, right, and his husband, Adam, play with their daughter, Kare. Disler earned a women, gender and sexuality studies degree online with Oregon State.

Conversation was also a core theme of Disler’s OSU online student experience in the women, gender and sexuality studies program. The commonalities he and his classmates discovered amongst one another helped to bridge the divide, both in terms of actual distance and within their own identities.

Having a tight-knit support network as an online student caught Disler off guard.

“Even though some of us have never even met, we feel like we have really close friendships because of the way that some of these classes are structured and the way that the dialogue has opened up in some of these conversations,” he says. “I didn’t anticipate that.”

Learning online with Oregon State empowered Disler to add another title to his growing collection: college graduate. And true to his nature, he treated the accomplishment as a catapult toward gaining more skills that will help him make a lasting impact. He is pursuing a Master of Social Work with a focus on policy practice and contemporary social issues online with Columbia University.

It’s all part of the mission to make tomorrow better than what came before.

“They say that history repeats itself,” Disler says. “With the knowledge gained in the WGSS program, we become better equipped to ensure that history redefines itself.”

Oregon State University delivers more than 100 degrees, certificates and microcredentials online, meaning you can find a pathway that aligns with your goals and passions, just like Bobby Disler.

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