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‘Extraordinary connections’ a highlight of religious studies online degree program

Alumna finds ‘home’ thanks to peer engagement, faculty support

By Tyler Hansen

The smile on Emma Sargent’s face was electric and permanent. Tears would soon be shed, but they’d be the grateful kind, the ones you cry when you’re with people who have left indelible marks on your life.

Seated at a desk in her bedroom, Sargent gazed into a computer screen with her parents and sister standing behind her. She was on Zoom with classmates and professors from the Oregon State University Ecampus religious studies online bachelor’s program for a long-distance graduation celebration.

Events of such magnitude are meant to be shared in person, but if you were looking for disappointed faces, you were looking in the wrong place. For two hours, this tight-knit community of freshly minted graduates and faculty displayed an uncommon bond for people who, by and large, have never met face to face.

The myth of online education being an impersonal, detached experience is just that — a myth. Sargent said it best.

“I couldn’t have imagined that I would’ve found this community and felt so confident that I found the thing that I’m supposed to be doing,” she said. “I found my people and I found my passion here. I found my home.”

How does Oregon State’s religious studies online degree program create such engaging experiences for students? It’s not just one thing. According to Sargent, it’s a variety.

It’s online coursework that fosters self-exploration and understanding

“Religious studies is not a major that has all the answers. It’s a major that inspires us to work towards understanding the people around us for who they are. And before we can understand the people around the world through the study of religion, we first have to learn to understand ourselves and the people within our circle.”

It’s the ability to have meaningful interactions with peers

“Being able to communicate with my peers about such important topics is truly one of the most wonderful experiences in the world. Most of these discussions occurred through discussion postings and responses, but in a couple of my classes, I had the opportunity to have Zoom calls or use resources like VoiceThread to speak with colleagues.

“Those were the most special to me. Those discussions were so authentic and personal that it makes me feel even more connected to the topics and to my peers.”

It’s the wide-ranging support from faculty and staff

“The faculty provided opportunities for growth and extra learning by pushing us students out of our comfort zone, while also providing endless amounts of support and kindness when we feel as though we are lacking.

“If it had not been for the faculty, my experience at Oregon State would have been completely different. It was truly the professors, advisors and tutors who inspired me to create such extraordinary connections with my colleagues and with the material.”

It’s the confidence to move forward in life after graduation

“The knowledge I gained as a religious studies student will help to inform my future work as a researcher in this field. However, I learned far beyond what can be included under that title. I learned how to communicate my opinions in kind and respectful ways, how to be inclusive in my understandings of others, and the importance of having people by your side who will motivate you to be better.”

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