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Nearly 1,000 undergraduate and graduate degrees were awarded at Western Governors University's semi-annual commencement on February 20, 2010. The largest graduating class to date, 530 bachelor's and post-baccalaureate and 458 master's degrees were awarded at the event, which was attended by more than 120 graduates from 48 states. Those unable to attend in person had an opportunity to participate live via streaming video through the Internet.
Hilary Pennington, Director of Education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, delivered the commencement address. She addressed the need for competencybased programs in higher education and recognized the achievements of the WGU graduates, telling them, "You are heroes and you are pioneers. You are heroes because you have achieved something important and hard. You have completed degrees while working and caring for family members. You are pioneers because you chose an unconventional path. You came to a new kind of institution, one that puts students at the center of everything it does. One that challenges traditional ideas of what school means, one that lets you start and progress at your own pace, one that measures progress by competency rather than seat time and combines the high tech of online learning with the high touch of dedicated faculty and mentors."
Four graduates also spoke at commencement, sharing their WGU experiences. Graduate speakers were Alex John, B.A., Interdisciplinary Studies (K-8) from Burlington, WA; David C. Cooper, B.S., Business Management from Garnet Valley, PA; Shannon Klieves, B.A., Interdisciplinary Studies (PK-8) from Spring Hill, FL; and Heather Cunningham, MBA from Indianapolis, IN.
Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana has been unanimously elected to the Western Governors University Board of Trustees. Along with Governor Ritter of Colorado, Daniels is one of two current governors on the university's governing board.
Elected in 2004, Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. is the 49th Governor of Indiana. The governorship was Daniels' first elected office. Before his election, Governor Daniels spent 15 years in the private sector serving as an executive at Eli Lilly and Company and CEO of the Hudson Institute. He also served as chief of staff to Senator Richard Lugar, senior advisor to President Ronald Reagan, and director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President George W. Bush. Governor Daniels was re-elected in 2008 to a second and final term, receiving more votes than any candidate for any public office in the state's history.
"I've become very excited about this innovative, high-quality, affordable educational offering and look forward to bringing this option to the attention of more Hoosier students," said Daniels.
"WGU was conceived by a bi-partisan group of governors, and the continuing involvement of governors has been integral to our growth and development throughout the years," said WGU President Robert Mendenhall. "With his commitment to education and education reform, Governor Daniels will make a vital contribution to our board during this time of tremendous growth. We welcome him to our board and look forward to working with him."
Launched in July of last year, WGU's B.S. in Nursing (Prelicensure) degree program is continuing to expand and develop. More than 70 students are currently enrolled in California and Texas, with additional cohorts scheduled to begin in the next few months. Feedback from focus groups and interviews with students and coaches indicate that this new approach to nursing education is providing valuable and relevant handson learning experiences.
Unlike traditional nursing programs, where clinical experiences take place in groups of 10-12 students under the direction of one registered nurse, WGU's program structure provides each student with a coach, a nurse who is on staff at a partner hospital. "The coaching model gives the students a fantastic experience, and no one is left behind," said Kathy Townsend, Director of Nursing for the California program. Students spend complete shifts with the same coach and are immersed into the real world of nursing.
I feel like I have learned more in three days with my coach than I have learned in all my textbooks put together," said one California nursing student. The model also increases the coaches' commitment to their students. One of the California hospital coaches noted, "There is so much invested in the students' success we feel a real responsibility to these students for the future generation of nursing students."
In May, WGU opened its first nursing program simulation lab in Santa Ana, California. The lab has two fully-equipped hospital rooms and a state-of-theart high fidelity human-patient simulator. Clinical simulations are a key element of WGU's competencybased approach—students must demonstrate their ability in the simulation labs before they work with actual patients.
More than 60 Western Governors University students and alumni were initiated into the international education honor society Kappa Delta Pi on February 19, 2010. The inaugural installation ceremony was held in conjunction with the university's semi-annual commencement events.
Founded in 1911, Kappa Delta Pi is the world's largest association for outstanding educators in all subjects, specialties, and levels of education and experience. The society, which has more than 600 chapters and 50,000 active members in North America, provides its members with leadership, service, and professional development opportunities. WGU's Teachers College is one of the few online colleges and the only competency-based university to be accepted into Kappa Delta Pi.
"This new honor society will recognize outstanding educators in WGU's Teachers College and provide opportunities for them to create meaningful connections with other students and alumni," said Orleatha Smith, president of WGU's KDP chapter.
The WGU Kappa Delta Pi chapter will focus on literacy efforts, service projects, and lifelong learning initiatives. To be eligible to join Kappa Delta Pi, members must meet or surpass stringent academic standards, complete a specified number of hours of collegiate coursework, and exhibit exceptional leadership qualities.
The Lumina Foundation for Education has awarded Western Governors University an $800,000 grant to "draw and share lessons arising from a newer, technology-enabled approach that unbundles elements of higher education to offer individualized, self-paced instruction that focuses on helping students meet defined learning outcomes." The grant will fund a twoyear program with three major objectives:
"The United States will not achieve the Lumina goal of 60% of our population with postsecondary education by 2025 without new models for higher education," said WGU President Robert W. Mendenhall. "The larger objective of this grant is to encourage others in higher education to explore alternative models and practices that will expand access, improve quality, and reduce costs."
Since its fiscal year began in July 2009, Western Governors University has awarded more than 630 scholarships valued at nearly $2.5 million, more than any other year in the university's history.
WGU currently offers 22 scholarship programs, serving diverse groups of students that include military spouses, nursing students, displaced workers, math and science educators, and aspiring school principals. Some of the most significant scholarship programs include the WGU Urban Math and Science Educators Scholarship, the Military Spouses to Graduates Scholarship, the AARP Foundation Scholarship for individuals over 40, and the Rural Math and Science Educators Scholarship funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Other scholarship programs have been made possible through the generous support of the National Advisory Board corporate members and additional major companies. These include American Express, CompTIA, Pacificorp, Rio Tinto, Questar, Qwest and Zions Bank.
Chantel Mitchell never planned to be a high school math teacher. As a college student, she set her sights on a law degree. "I got my bachelor's degrees in English Literature (Pre-Law) and Mathematics and Computer Sciences. I was planning to get a law degree and finance law school by being a computer tech," said Chantel. She soon realized that a career as an attorney would not offer her the life she wanted. Chantel wanted to travel and to see the world, and, after some experiences as a substitute teacher, she realized she was naturally suited to teaching. "I started teaching at a high school in the suburbs and it just felt right! I figured this is what I should be doing, so I did," she said.
After a friend told her about Western Governors University, they decided to try it together. It was a good fit for her unbelievably busy schedule—she could still work full time while getting a teaching degree. "Even if I was out of the country, I was always able to access the curriculum and my support system; it didn't matter where I was," said Chantel.
Being able to watch her own advancement as she completed each course was very gratifying for Chantel. "You get to see your progress, the classes that you complete, and also feel the satisfaction, the feeling that I'm doing this! I'm really doing this!"
While Chantel will continue to travel during the summer months, she has already begun her career as an educator. Only two weeks after completing the Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Preparation Program in Mathematics at WGU, she received an outstanding job offer. "My first official job as a teacher is as the lead teacher for Senior Mathematics." She teaches Pre-calculus and College Math at a Chicago public high school, and she has already begun to work on her Master of Arts in Teaching for Mathematics at WGU.
Until just a few years ago, Heather Cunningham was a wife, mother, and partner in a successful business. But when her marriage ended and she lost her business, Heather was faced with finding other ways to provide for herself and her family. She struggled to make ends meet, relying on welfare and at times, working at as many as five jobs. Heather knew she needed to go back to school and finish her degree. "I felt I was not going to be marketable without a solid education," said Heather.
After looking at several options, she chose WGU because she needed to be able to take care of her family and work full time. Even going to college online, managing her time and staying focused were still very challenging. Heather studied while her children slept, often staying up until the early morning hours and then rising to get the kids ready for school and get ready for work.
Heather completed her bachelor's degree in Business Management at WGU, and her final project, which included preparing a resume, helped her land a job with Comcast. In just four months, Heather was promoted to a management position in the company's retail sales department.
Not content with only a bachelor's degree and a promotion, Heather decided to enroll in WGU's MBA program. With the help of a very supportive mentor, she was able to complete the rigorous master's program in one term. "It has given me a lot stronger ground to stand on in my work, and I've earned more respect from my peers and superiors," said Heather, who was one of four graduating students to speak at WGU's Winter Commencement.
Heather says that completing both degrees has turned her life around 180 degrees. While working to complete her two degrees, Heather notes that it required her and her children to sacrifice some of their time together. But Heather believes that being able to show her kids how to work hard to achieve a goal is a great example for them, and they have been able to see that it's possible to overcome great obstacles with determination and hard work. "While I was late going back to get my degrees, now at 41 years old I can tell my children that I've been successful and if I can do it anybody can do it," she said.
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