Like many Blue Raider students with outside responsibilities or unique schedules, MTSU English major and current senior Vincent Taylor needed a course of study that could accommodate his life outside the classroom.
“I take care of my grandmother full time in my hometown,” said Taylor, who lives about 170 miles away from campus in Maryville, Tennessee. “Online classes enable me to care for her while still working on my degree.”
Dr. Elyce Helford, English professor and director of online operations for the Department of English at MTSU, said the department’s faculty were inspired by students like Taylor to offer a fully online degree.
“We are generally inspired to meet the needs of the many students who must balance heavy work or life loads — from jobs with inflexible hours and those who must travel to parenting small children or elder care responsibilities,” Helford said.
Aside from due dates for specific assignments, course work for the degree is fully asynchronous, Helford said. There are no courses to attend virtually at certain times, and students are not required to physically set foot on campus. Plus, she said, there is no difference in the content and quality between in-person and online programs.
“All online courses are taught by experienced English faculty and require the same rigor and engagement as on-ground courses,” she said.
Taylor said MTSU’s online program “has been very positive for me. I still feel supported despite the distance.”
Taylor will graduate this spring and was just accepted into Eastern Michigan University’s graduate program with hopes to earn his doctorate and become a professor — all achievements reached from the comfort of his own home.
“I’d recommend the program for any student,” Taylor said. “Specifically, though, if you have outside responsibilities like family or child care, full-time jobs or any other obligations, the online program is for you!”
Online education leader
Originally from Chicago, Helford joined the department in 1992. She explained that they have been committed to offering a fully online English degree for around five years now.
“English faculty who teach online and are proponents have been working on creating strong, professional, compelling courses online for at least 10 years,” Helford said. “Retired professors Dr. Maria Clayton, Dr. Deborah Gentry and Dr. Becky King, for instance, worked tirelessly to ensure the department made best uses of available technologies and opportunities, while keeping the standards for our courses high.”
Helford added that in addition to wanting prospective students to know about the fully online program, she wants more to know about the department’s diverse course offerings.
“I teach general education courses both on ground and online in ‘Women Immigrants and the American Dream’ and Holocaust Survivor Literature, and my upper-division courses include ‘Women Film Pioneers’ and ‘Literature and Film Adaptation,’” she said.
The department adds courses each year.
“Most recently we’ve added courses in modern poetry and film noir, and there is a Shakespeare course online coming soon,” she said. “Online graduate courses are also being offered.”
English department chair Stephen Severn said an English degree can unlock a range of academic and career opportunities.
“English majors are well positioned to pursue graduate work in law school and medical school and academic disciplines such English, education, history and psychology,” Severn said.
“They’re also well qualified to find employment in professional fields that range from education, editing and publication, professional or technical writing to nonprofit management, grant writing, web development and consulting.”
Both Severn and online English advisor Laura Dubek said they’ve noted an increase in English majors in recent years.
“Over the past three years, our total undergraduate enrollment is up 9.75%,” Severn said.
“There are (also) more students taking English courses,” Dubek said. “We have a growing number of English minors. I believe the accessibility of our online program is one reason why.
“Each semester, I field inquiries from students who use Google to search for online programs in English…. We are leading the state in this area.”
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)