Though the traditional commencement ceremony marks the end of an academic journey, in the truest definition of the word it also signifies beginnings.
December’s commencement ceremony does just that as a special group of Lipscomb graduates celebrate being the first students in university history to finish their degrees completely online … and the institution celebrates the beginning of a new pathway to accessing a college education.
On Saturday, Lipscomb University will officially award diplomas to its first three students who have finished their undergraduate degrees completely online. These three pioneer students are leading the way for others following behind them in Lipscomb’s online program, housed in the College of Professional Studies.
Beverly Richardson of Nashville has worked as a dental hygienist for 26 years. In August 2017, she made a decision to make a career change. Although she says she has had a wonderful career, the profession has taken a physical toll on Richardson and she began to consider what she wanted to do next. She knew that her next career move would mean she needed to complete the college degree she began more than 25 years ago.
When she began to explore her options, Richardson says she discovered Lipscomb’s online degree option, housed in the College of Professional Studies, and its unique CORE Competency Assessment Center. It seemed like a perfect fit for her busy life with a full-time job.
“I chose Lipscomb’s program because of the CORE assessment program. I was able to combine the 24 hours received in the one-day assessment with previous hours transferred through the dental hygiene program,” says Richardson. “The online classes were not only the best way, but essentially the only way that I have been able to complete my degree. I have continued to work full time while completing the 18 hours remaining to earn my bachelor’s degree. I only took one class at a time due to financial restraints, and it was very manageable to do so while working.”
Richardson, who will receive her Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in psychology, says things have changed since she enrolled in college the first time. She was initially “intimidated” by online classes and very different from how she was accustomed to attending classes.
“I am grateful to have teenaged children to help with word docs and power points,” she muses. “Lipscomb’s online program, however, is extremely user friendly, and I had excellent communication with all of my instructors. I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience with Lipscomb. Everyone I have interacted with in person as well as online has been supportive, patient and incredibly encouraging in helping me reach this goal.”
She credits her first mentor, John Williams, former program advisor, with giving her the courage to pursue this path. She says when contemplating a return to college, she had a number of concerns about embarking on such a journey at her age.
“He really was the reason I made the final decision to apply to Lipscomb University,” Richardson recalls. “I had many questions and concerns about returning to school, and he took the time to put things into perspective and give me the needed confidence to move ahead.”
Armed with an undergraduate degree, Richardson plans to pursue a post-secondary degree through the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s online Master of Science in Social Work program. She says she is “thrilled” to have accomplished this goal, and that she is eager to begin the next phase in completing her education. After earning graduate degree, Richardson plans to work clinically either through group or individual counseling — something she says she has wanted to do for some time.
Richardson encourages others who may be considering beginning or completing their undergraduate degree not to let age or other fears stand in the way of pursuing this dream.
“I had many reservations and concerns about starting this journey, and have been pleasantly surprised to find the majority were unfounded,” admits Richardson. “I am also grateful for this opportunity to show my children how commitment and hard work can help turn dreams and visions into reality at any age.”
Opening doors to new opportunities
John Mott, of Gallatin, Tennessee, also discovered Lipscomb’s online program when he decided to return to college in fall 2017. He will graduate Saturday with a Bachelor of Professional Studies degree in organizational leadership.
An onsite representative for Wood Personnel, Mott says he desired to further his career opportunities and knew an undergraduate degree would open doors for him to explore new options. Mott, who had previous college experience and credits, found Lipscomb’s online program and knew it was the program to help him accomplish his goal.
“Lipscomb’s program was very flexible, had great advising and it was close to home,” he says. “Taking online classes allowed me to take classes at my pace with my busy schedule.”
Balancing work and school was challenging, and was a new experience in itself. Mott says he held himself accountable to complete each course and not put it off to keep making forward progress toward the end goal of a degree.
Among some of the biggest lessons Mott says he learned through the experience was how to do research and to develop solutions in “unconventional ways.”
“Lipscomb was a great experience. My advisor (Whitney Holland) was phenomenal from the start,” says Mott, who completed his degree online in one year. “I am very thankful for the opportunity that Lipscomb provided me in being able to accomplish getting my degree. It is something that I never thought I would be able to do while working full time.”
Earning his degree is an accomplishment of which Mott is proud, and one that he encourages others to do.
“This means a lot to me. It shows that if I put my mind to a challenge, I can overcome and accomplish it,” he admits. “Having a degree will open doors to new opportunities that will allow me to further provide for my family. I would encourage others who are considering this path to do it. It’s worth it!”
Finishing what was started
After taking an unintentional sabbatical from college, Abby King of Nashville, Tennessee, decided in 2017 it was time to finish what she started 10 years prior.
Similarly, to Richardson and Mott, King was ready to grow in her career when she heard about Lipscomb. Working full-time with two children meant college needed to accommodate her schedule, and Lipscomb’s online program did just that.
King was on track to finish college in a traditional timeline until she got married her senior year, changing her financial aid status and ultimately pressing the pause button on her degree. Even though this challenge was unexpected, she said finishing her
degree as an adult allowed her to recognize the value in her courses.
“I wouldn’t have been able to take courses like my servant leadership course anywhere else,” said King. “The Christian foundation Lipscomb provides allowed me to take a Bible course as an adult, and I appreciated it so much more than I would have years earlier.”
Because she already had three and a half years of college under her belt, King said finding a college that would accept a lot of her transfer credits was a requirement. Lipscomb accepted most of her credits and now after starting the program in October 2017, King will attain her degree in organizational leadership on Saturday.
“I was able to narrow down what my God-given gifts are and how to implement those in the workplace,” said King. “What started out as a means to an end became life changing.”
Now that she has completed her degree, King said she feels like she can actually grow in her career, and she has encouraged others to go back and complete their degrees as well.
“This was something I could complete while having a full-time career and while raising a 4- and 7-year-old,” said King. “My advice to others is to go back and finish what you started. You can finish your degree, and the Lipscomb community will give you the support you need to do it.”
Lipscomb University offers online undergraduate programs in business leadership, psychology, data analysis, technology management, entertainment management, strategic leadership, RN-to-BSN and integrated studies; graduate programs in business leadership, competency-based design, global leadership, performance coaching, strategic leadership, sustainability and technology integration; and a Doctorate of Education degree in learning organizations and strategic change.
Completing a degree online is one of a variety of ways to pursue an education.
"There are a number of options available to students,” says Ted Meyers, associate dean of admissions and enrollment services in the College of Professional Studies. “Lipscomb’s approach is unique with its competency-based education component that awards college credit based on demonstrated skills learned in the workplace. Combine that with our online program and students find a flexible option at Lipscomb that helps them accomplish their educational goals in a way that is tailored to meet their needs more than a traditional online program. This program is a benefit to the ‘new normal’ adult who has a busy life.”
Nina Morel, dean of the College of Professional Studies, says the success of the program is also due to the commitment of the faculty to teach in non-traditional ways.
“I am proud of our graduates, and I am proud of the fine faculty we have. The faculty has been flexible and willing to learn a new way to teach, one that involved a lot of one-on-one communication with students,” says Morel. “The ability to give strong and detailed written feedback is one of the most important skills of our professors. For the student to succeed, they have to be in close contact and show the student the areas in which they can improve so that they can demonstrate the competencies in the course."
Lipscomb University's December Commencement for all undergraduates, master and doctoral candidates will be held on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. in Allen Arena. Watch the ceremony live at live.lipscomb.edu.
To learn more about Lipscomb University’s online program, visit www.lipscomb.edu/admissions/online.