Nearly 50 Master of Communication Management Online students met face-to-face for the first time recently at an evening reception at USC.
Andrew Mees, who traveled from New Jersey to attend the event, said he was drawn to visit the school because of its tradition, campus and location in the city of Los Angeles.
“When I had the opportunity to come meet other students and my instructors and just be a part of what’s going on here, it was an easy decision,” Mees said.
Adriana Flores drove 10 hours for the reception on Nov. 9 with a 4-month-old and a 3-year-old to meet her classmates.
“It’s a long drive, but it’s not your typical graduate program where you see everyone in class two or three times a week, so for me it was really important to connect with some of the people that I’m going to school with,” Flores said. “They’re really amazing, very accomplished people that are from all over the country. When you’re working on group projects together and you’re doing everything virtually, you develop a bond.”
Although USC Annenberg’s Master of Communication Management Online program is completely online (there is also a traditional on-campus Communication Management Master’s Degree) and most students have only interacted with one another virtually, the curriculum structure encourages strong interaction through group projects. A sense of community is prevalent on class forums and discussions online.
Because the students are part of an online-only program, many expected the interaction to be more difficult. The opposite turned out to be true.
“I feel like it’s been a more enriching experience because a lot of us take it upon ourselves to actually try to interact more because we don’t have the typical classroom experience,” Kristy Junio said. “I was a little unsure of how that would be in a purely online program. But I actually feel like I’ve gotten to know my classmates really intimately, which is nice.
Vicki Young, an online student from Pasadena, said it’s almost like they have known each other for years.
“You’ve been on Fuze (Web conference) meetings and done all kinds of phone calls, all kinds of chats and things, but now it’s like, ‘Wait you do look like that,’” said Young, who added that she only wished her section instructors from New York and Barcelona were able to attend.
Said Mees: “It’s a little weird because you talk to these people through email all the time, you have all the same war stories and you’ve seen the inside of their houses (on camera) and now you’re here. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, you’re here in person, cool.’”
Lisa Dulyea said because of the large number of group projects, the students have relied on each other to succeed in the program and have become friends, just like in a traditional classroom setting.
“Meeting the students is amazing, but since you connect with them so often with technology today through Skype or even avatars and phone calls, connecting with the faculty is actually the highlight,” Dulyea said.
Neil Teixeira, director of distance learning for USC Annenberg, said this kind of event is going to become a tradition, and will take place every year before Homecoming.
“We want that strong connection that students on campus get immediately, and having events like this for online students not only gives them the sense of the Trojan Family, but in some ways really intensifies it because they really know each other very well online, and then this brief three hours together is full of so many memories,” Teixeira said.
Some of the students were uncertain what to expect when beginning a program completely online.
“Now it’s the best thing ever,” Zeyad Maasarani said. “We’re always online together, and we support each other like a family.”