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On the right track: Hard work and online learning with OSU Ecampus help this family to a better life

The work ethic Albert Diaz acquired in the Navy has helped him succeed in Oregon State’s rigorous online computer science program.

By Tyler Hansen
Dec. 12, 2017

It’s a weeknight in the winter of 2014, and Albert Diaz is riding the train home from his job at Tesla Motors in the Bay Area. Albert works as a manufacturing equipment engineer on the luxury electric cars that are placing Tesla in the same stratosphere as Silicon Valley titans Apple and Google when it comes to innovation.

The commute home to his wife and their young children in the city of Manteca will take 90 minutes, but Albert knows how to fill the time. His automation work for Tesla recently spawned his interest in computer programming. Working on the cars of the future can have that effect on people.

To satisfy his desire for programming knowledge, he opens his laptop and navigates to his coursework as an OSU computer science student. His classroom is not at the Kelley Engineering Center on OSU’s Corvallis campus. It’s his seat on this train, speeding through the dark of night, where he settles in to work on a class project related to operating systems.

Samantha Diaz, OSU Ecampus graduate, plays with her youngest child outside her California home.

Samantha Diaz earned her psychology degree online with Ecampus in 2016. (Photos by Chris Becerra)

Once Albert gets home and the kids are asleep down the hall, he’ll study alongside the only Oregon State student he has met face-to-face: his wife, Samantha, a psychology major. She was the first in the family to enroll with Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s nationally-ranked online education division. They have never set foot on the Oregon State campus.

They both decided to apply to OSU — and become a full-fledged Beaver Nation family — thanks to a Google search that yielded results favorable to OSU.

Fast forward three years to the present, and Albert and Samantha Diaz are fitting examples of the benefits of the university’s wildly successful distance education efforts.

Be it under one roof or throughout the world, they and thousands of adult learners like them are continuing Oregon State’s land-grant legacy of learning and service.

Life at full speed, with OSU in tow

When Samantha and Albert were married in 2008, their lives were, in a sense, simple: one new marriage, one West Coast home, no children. Things changed rapidly thanks in part to Albert’s service in the Navy. The family moved across the country twice, welcomed Gabriel, Kamryn and Isaiah, and, later, transitioned out of military life.

Somewhere amid all these life-altering events, the couple decided to add another one by enrolling online with Ecampus.

If it seems like a lot for one family to juggle, it was. But Ecampus is built to help busy people succeed. While managing her duties as a mom and student, Samantha also worked in service to others, helping teach students with special needs in preschool and middle school.

“I chose to work because I felt like I needed something for myself,” she said. “I wanted to show my kids that even though I’m a mom I can still go to school and I can still work hard for what I want.”

The Diaz family: parents and OSU Ecampus students Albert and Samantha with their three children.

The Diaz family takes a walk, with youngest son Isaiah practicing his piloting as his big brother and sister, Gabriel and Kamryn, his parents keep a careful watch outside their California home.

Samantha’s do-it-all approach was part of what inspired Albert to enroll in OSU’s online postbaccalaureate computer science program.

“I don’t think he would admit this, but I think that he saw me going to school and working and being a mother, and I think that he knows that if I can do it, he can do it,” said Samantha, who plans to pursue a teaching credential in special education and later a master’s degree. “And we made a promise that we would always support each other no matter what.”

Finding support from a global network

That element of encouragement has fortified Albert on all sides throughout his studies. The Ecampus computer science program is known for its rigor, with a note to prospective students on the program website that states “you must be resilient” to succeed.

Six years as a nuclear mechanic in the Navy helped Albert acquire the requisite grit and work ethic. And whenever he has needed a boost — while riding the train or late at night on the weekends — he has found ample support.

“The instructors are really involved and care about our education, and when they’re willing to put in the work, it helps me want to put in the work,” said Albert, who is now a radiological analyst at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a premier science and technology lab.

As for the notion that online learning has to be an isolated experience? That’s a foreign concept at Oregon State, which has earned national acclaim for the level of student engagement it fosters.

The cover of the Oregon Stater's winter 2018 issue features Ecampus computer science grad Albert Diaz and his daughter Kamryn, who is sitting on his shoulders.

This article originally appeared as the cover story in the winter 2018 issue of the Oregon Stater alumni magazine.

“It’s a friendly community,” Albert said, describing vibrant discussions with a worldwide network of classmates that are hosted within the online classroom and other web-based platforms. “It’s easy for us to connect and make friends, to reach out to each other, even to motivate each other to push forward and finish the program.”

Delivering on a mission to serve

Albert and Samantha made their first trip to the Oregon State campus in June 2016 for Samantha to walk in the spring commencement ceremony, all while six months pregnant with their third child. True to their Filipino heritage, celebrating the accomplishment alone wasn’t an option, so they brought family from both sides with them to Corvallis.

They’ll likely head back to campus this coming spring. Albert is expected to finish his computer science degree requirements in 2018 and add another OSU diploma to the family mantel.

“It has been a privilege to follow the accomplishments of Samantha and Albert the past several years. We’re proud to serve students like them,” said Lisa L. Templeton, associate provost of OSU’s Division of Extended Campus. “Everything we do is designed to increase access to an Oregon State education so learners can improve their families’ lives.”

Educational outreach has been Oregon State’s mission since 1868. Delivery methods may have evolved with time, but nearly 150 years later, the train is still speeding down the tracks.

Making strides: Ecampus by the numbers

1 in 7 members of OSU’s 6,800-member Class of 2017 completed their degree requirements via Ecampus.

2 in 3 OSU students take at least one Ecampus class during a school year.

3 in 4 Ecampus students live outside Oregon.

100-plus subjects are available for study online via Ecampus.

1 was the rank given to Ecampus in a list of the 50 Best Value Online Colleges.

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