Online B.A. Program in Communication Celebrates its First Graduates

l-r: Jessica Enyart Thoma, Alissa Farina and James Wolfe
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l-r: Jessica Enyart Thoma, Alissa Farina and James Wolfe

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The first graduates from the online Bachelor of Arts in Communication program at the University of Arkansas will walk during the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences commencement Friday, May 11, in Bud Walton Arena. Another is set to finish his degree this summer.

Four students in the online program applied for graduation in May, and two of them will participate in commencement. A fifth student has applied to graduate this summer.

“This is a great milestone for an online program that is only two years old,” said Robert M. Brady, chair of the Department of Communication. “After years of the hard work by our department to build these online courses, we are seeing results. Students are accomplishing their educational goals by earning their degrees and we congratulate them on their success.”

The bachelor’s degree in communication is one of two online degree programs offered by Fulbright College. The other program, a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, launched three years ago.

Online students, like on-campus students, can participate in commencement, and will receive U of A diplomas and have their names engraved in Senior Walk, along with the names of more than 180,000 U of A graduates. That’s because online programs are created and delivered by U of A colleges.

Although the goals of the first students to graduate from the online communication program were the same, their reasons for completing their communication degrees online were different.

Online Graduates

Alissa Farina, who grew up in Rogers but now lives in New York, studied on the Fayetteville campus her freshman and sophomore years of college. Internships in New York’s fashion industry lured her away in the summer of 2016, and she did not want to abandon those job experiences.

“I’m so thankful that I switched to the online program,” Farina said. “I love the freedom. It gave me the opportunity to live where I wanted to live and go to school.”

While studying online, Farina gained workplace experience in the fashion industry through paid internships with designer companies Tom Ford and Stuart Weitzman.

“I got my foot in the door,” Farina said. “It’s only because I could continue school online. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Farina will walk during commencement May 11.

“It was two years of really hard work,” Farina said. “Now, I’m graduating. I’m excited about that.”

Jessica Enyart Thomas of Centerton found the path to graduation longer and snarled with obstacles, but that has sweetened the reward, she said.

“This is a big, big deal to me,” Thomas said of graduating and walking in commencement May 11. “I never quit school, no matter what came up. Degrees matter in today’s workplace. I know a lot of companies that won’t even give you an interview without a bachelor’s degree.”

Thomas began traditional, face-to-face courses at the University of Hawaii in 2013. Since then, she’s continued to work and go to school, while managing life challenges including moves to two other states, giving birth to two children, and getting remarried after her first husband passed away in an auto accident.

“Online was really my only way to earn a degree,” Thomas said. “I put in as many hours online as I would have in traditional courses. It can be as challenging, if not more challenging, than face-to-face courses.”

Thomas worked the past three years as a bank teller, a banker and a branch manager, while taking communication courses online. In the last month, she accepted a position as the social media manager for a lending institution in Rogers. The institution offered her the job after seeing her experience and pending graduation on LinkedIn.

“I’d like to think they thought it would be a good fit,” Thomas said.

James Wolfe, who lives in Rogers, used online classes to overcome dyslexia, a learning disability that has nothing to do with intelligence. Although he said his middle school teacher told him he could not succeed in college, he will graduate this summer with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

“It’s priceless,” Wolfe said of his degree. “It will create a much happier life for me, for my fiancée, and my children, one day.”

Wolfe sometimes struggled in face-to-face college courses, which he started in 2011. The Center for Education Access provided help, but sometimes he still felt “overwhelmed,” he said. In 2014, he took his first online class.

“I liked it a lot,” Wolfe said. “It was much more organized. I could see everything (class assignments) and plan out my week. I found it much easier for me to manage my time, and I had time to double-check everything.”

He also managed to move forward with other personal and professional goals. He will start a new job in Memphis in May and will get married in June.

How to be successful

Students said success in an online program requires great self-discipline, time-management, and attention to resources.

“To be successful, it is really about time-management,” Farina said. “You really need to be hard-working and determined.”

Wolfe agreed and added, “You have to be self-motivated and driven.”

Thomas said, “I think anything is possible for people who are willing to put in the work. It’s a great option for people who need flexibility, for someone who is working or trying to get job experience.”

About the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences: The J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is the largest and most academically diverse unit on campus with 19 departments and 43 academic programs and research centers. The college provides the core curriculum for all University of Arkansas students and is named for J. William Fulbright, former university president and longtime U.S. senator.

About the Global Campus: The Global Campus supports U of A colleges and schools in the development and delivery of online programs and courses. It provides instructional design services, technology services and assistance with marketing, recruiting and strategic academic development.


Thomas Rosteck Jr., associate professor


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