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‘Academic energy’ lures Florida’s Corwin, makes all the travel worthwhile

Remember those mornings during college when you had to roll out of bed and reluctantly drag yourself to class? Remember the imaginary devil on your shoulder who whispered every excuse in your ear to convince you to fall back asleep?

Elaine Corwin, Ph.D. student

Elaine Corwin engages in discussion with students in the CCL program cohort during one of her trips to Oregon from Florida.

“It’s too much of a hassle to get there.”

“You’ll never make it on time.”

“Campus is too far away.”

“These pillows are really soft.”

Everyone is guilty of succumbing to the pressure. Well, everyone except Elaine Corwin.

Corwin is a Ph.D. student in Oregon State University’s College of Education and a full-time educator who drops everything several times a year to make the 2,500-mile trek from her home in Beverly Hills, Florida, to Oregon.

There’s no fun-filled vacation awaiting her in the Pacific Northwest. Instead, she’s part of OSU’s Community College Leadership (CCL) program, a hybrid, online-and-on-site doctoral degree program delivered by OSU Ecampus that Corwin describes as “grueling” and “very intense” in one sentence and “amazing” and “wonderful” in the next.

That seems to be the consensus view of the CCL program among its cohort of nationwide students: relentlessly challenging and entirely beneficial.

“I was drawn into the academic energy of the program,” said Corwin, who teaches English composition at Pasco-Hernando Community College in Brooksville, Fla. “The ability to do coursework online and then work in person with professors and other students in Oregon was very appealing. I knew right away that being in this program would be worth all the traveling.”

The CCL program prepares faculty and administrators for leadership roles in technical and community colleges, higher education settings and similar organizations. The program’s focus is on the application of quality research to the problems and opportunities in community and technical colleges.

Corwin, who holds master’s degrees in English and clinical psychology from universities in Ohio, began teaching in 2007 and quickly realized many of her students fell victim to the skills gap – the disparity between what they need to know and what they do know as they enter college.

Rather than sit back and hope someone else would fix the problem, Corwin decided to become part of the solution, with Ecampus equipping her with the necessary tools.

“My goal is to be able to go back to Pasco-Hernando and set up programs that will offer students more success in their first year of community college,” she said. “We lose so many students that first year, so we need to collaborate with the high schools to prepare the students for college-level work, which isn’t being done at the moment. This program will help prepare me with the skills to help our students.”

There’s plenty of testimony to support that claim. The Ecampus program is well-regarded for its ability to cultivate new leaders in the community college arena, and program coordinator Shelley Dubkin-Lee said the majority of students join OSU’s program based on the recommendations of OSU graduates who rave about the CCL program.

Most say the program’s success is the result of pairing high-quality online education with the perks of the cohort’s in-person collaborations in Oregon. Students meet for an intensive three-day weekend of classes each month during each term at Silver Falls State Park near Salem, as well as for one week on OSU’s main campus in Corvallis each summer.

“Our students get all the nuances of real interaction because they work and live together for three days at a time in the lodges in Silver Falls,” Dubkin-Lee said. “They’re eating together and watching movies together, working on group projects and having deeper discussions with faculty about the subjects covered in class.

“… And the curriculum is a big strength. If you want to be a community college leader, this is the program. We’re not the only program, but we’re the most unique program that offers the most.”

Add Corwin to the list of believers. She expects to complete her CCL program coursework and dissertation by late 2012 or early 2013. She didn’t attend the commencement ceremony for any of her three previous college degrees, but she plans to fly to Corvallis – again – when the time comes to receive her Ph.D. from OSU.

It seems all these 5,000-mile round-trips from Florida to Oregon are striking a chord.

“The program is very intense, but worth it. They push you hard all the time, but at this level I expected it. I love it,” Corwin said. “They’re very careful about who they bring into the program, because they want everyone to succeed. Why they decided to risk a spot on a student who lives in Florida, I’ll never understand. But I’m so glad they did.”