By John Sharify, WGU Communications Manager, Northwest Region
When the time comes—and it will be soon—Western Governors University will celebrate its 5,280th graduate from Colorado.
Question. Who will it be? Drum roll please …. Ok, not just yet. You’ll find out soon. We promise. You can pause that drum roll.
Next question. Why THAT number to mark the milestone? # 5280
Well, if you have to ask, then you’re probably not from Colorado. And if you’re not, think Denver. Think ‘mile high’. The city that’s literally a mile high. 5,280 feet above sea level.
Alicia Taber O’Brien lives in Durango, Colorado. And when I interviewed the WGU graduate on zoom the other day, practically the first word out of her mouth was: “Congratulations!”
Alicia is a mother of two. She wanted to express her good wishes to the "mile high" graduate even though we don’t know yet who he or she is. “Just congratulations,” she repeated. “And I’m sure your degree will help you reach the goals you have in life.”
Alicia speaks from experience. She knows how valuable it was for her to get that WGU degree. It was a master's degree in math education. She received her diploma in 2004.
She didn’t know it then. She knows it now. THIS fact. She knows it because we just told her. Alicia has the distinction of being Colorado’s first WGU graduate! That’s right #1 !
So we had to ask her how THAT felt. Being first.
“Nice. It’s nice to be recognized,” she says.
But here’s the thing. She had no idea she was Colorado’s first WGU graduate until WE told her. “It’s so funny no one ever told me that. ‘Till now,” she laughs. “ I never knew that. I never knew that.”
Now she knows.
And soon she’ll know the identity of #5280. Go ahead, start that drum roll again …
We wanted to know something else. We asked Alicia to describe her WGU experience.
“The experience was good,” she says. “It was hectic. I had two small toddlers and I was teaching full-time at a high school in rural Colorado. And I would teach all day and do my mommy things. And then when the kids went to bed, I would stay up and do all my work. But I was pretty motivated to teach.”
Alicia discovered the nation’s largest, nonprofit online university, WGU, online. Of course online.
“I knew I wanted to further my education,” she says. “But I knew I had to do it in some kind of correspondence fashion. So I looked at as many different online programs that I possibly could. And compared them.”
Alicia concluded: Nothing compared to Western Governors University. “And one of the things that happened when I was applying to WGU is that they made me aware of the rural teacher scholarship, which made my education extremely affordable. And as you know, WGU is competency-based so any prior knowledge you can demonstrated counts towards your degree. So it was significant in helping me finish the degree very quickly. Which is awesome. I love that.”
And WE love the fact that very soon #1 will get to meet #5280. You better believe we’ll arrange THAT Zoom meeting. Or maybe they’ll meet in person. And the question will likely come up. It’s a question I asked Alicia in our Zoom chat. “What are you doing with your degree?”
Her answer: “I’m an Associate Professor of Math at San Juan College (in New Mexico) and my primary research focus is math education,” she laughs. “So I’m doing a lot with it!”
Below, you can watch John's interview with Alicia Taber O’Brien, proud WGU graduate, from the class of 2004. And we can’t wait to celebrate #5280 in Colorado soon…and the rest of the story.
John Sharify is a national award-winning journalist who is always looking for inspiring stories. If you have a story idea to share, John would love to hear from you at email@example.com