March 19, 2014

Northeastern’s online degrees a great option for distance learners

Chris McLean of Laurinburg, NC (left) was in Sterling to complete 21 ag labs in three days including this one on calcium sulfate extraction. As a student in Mike Brownell’s (right) online classes in soil science and crop production.

Chris McLean of Laurinburg, NC (left) was in Sterling to complete 21 ag labs in three days including this one on calcium sulfate extraction. As a student in Mike Brownell’s (right) online classes in soil science and crop production. Brownell requires that students complete the labs onsite. Most of his students are living within an hour or two of Sterling. McLean, a full-time employee with Pioneer, flew to Colorado to meet this class requirement. (Courtesy Photo)

 When Chris McLean was 18 and graduating from high school, he didn’t think much about going to college. He had places to go and things to do, and because he had a solid work ethic, he opted to get a job and go to work. Life happens and before he knew it, he was married and having children. Fast forward 20 years. McLean has since chosen to go to college.  This Laurinburg, North Carolina resident is also choosing to do his college online—almost completely online.

Since 2002, McLean has been working for Pioneer, the leader in cutting edge agriculture seed genetics and production. As a production technician, he oversees seed processing, order processing, inventory, bagging operations and packaging for primarily soy beans.  “I love the work I do,” McLean quickly says. “My great grandpa was a farmer and my grandfather was a farmer and I’ve just always loved agriculture.”

Pioneer is a great company to work for but McLean says he observed over the years how someone with education beyond high school was able to quickly move up the ranks. “It has never been said to me that I needed more education, but I could see it. Agriculture has become very technical so I made a personal choice to go back to school,” McLean explains.

He googled the keywords ‘ag degree’ and a number of options came up, listing a variety of schools across the nation. But the one that really caught his attention was a small college in Colorado that not only offered ag degrees, but had one that could be entirely earned online. Bingo. With a full time job, three children and a wife and the need to be able to do the curriculum without being in a classroom, McLean found just what he was looking for.  He  drove a county over from his home to take the required Accuplacer test at a college there, asking that the results be sent to Colorado. Shortly thereafter, he enrolled in Northeastern’s online associate of science degree in ag business and he hasn’t looked back yet. Well, maybe he did glance into his rear view mirror as he and the wife pulled away from Larinburg last week, driving to the airport to get on a plane to come to Sterling, Colorado  so that he could complete the lab portion of his soils science and crop production classes onsite.

Yes, McLean can earn his degree totally online, with the exception of some lab requirements that must be done in front of, perhaps proctored by, a qualified teacher. In his case, McClean, now with nearly three years of online classes under his belt,  wanted to come to Colorado and meet some of the instructors he has been learning from on his computer screen. He’s had ag classes with Mike Brownell and Kelly Huenink among others. He has taken some classes, including core education requirements from other instructors in the Colorado Community College Online system. All of his credits however, are being recorded at Northeastern and this is from whence his degree will eventually come. While in Sterling last week, Brownell set McLean up to complete a total of 21 labs—13 in soils and 9 in crops. Over three days, McLean intently did what was necessary to complete all of these, and he managed to keep smiling while he did it.

“I’ve loved the agriculture classes,” says McLean. He remembers an accounting class he took and admits, with a chuckle, to hating it. He talks about working all day and then coming home to do sit down with his children (ages 17, 10 and 5) to do homework. “I check their homework and they check mine,” he laughs. “My oldest daughter is a junior in high school and she’s been great help for me with the math. It’s been kind of cool that we are all being learners at the same time. Some nights after they go to bed, I do online work until I reach a point where I say, ‘no more’.” McLean has earned right at a 3.5 grade point average on his college classes, but shares this information as if he’s a bit embarrassed that he hasn’t done better.

McLean’s wife was here for the three days, attempting to do some sightseeing. “She says she drove this way out of town and just saw agriculture, then she drove that way and just saw agriculture,” he said, laughing, commenting that they knew they were definitely in a place where people know a lot about agriculture and in turn, a good place to be taking classes. The couple’s five year old son broke his arm during the time they were here, so as parents, they both were feeling a need to get back home as soon as possible.

McLean has plans to finish an online degree at Northeastern, then transfer to Colorado State University where he’s already had dialogue with the agriculture department there about completing his bachelor’s degree totally online. At age 38, he’s still plenty young to take on a college degree, even if he does it one or two classes at a time. He says that if his brain hasn’t melted by then, he has aspirations of eventually going as far as working to earn a doctorate from Oregon State.

Pioneer has given McLean some incentive. They have offered to start helping pay for some of his classes. In the meantime, Northeastern sent him back home to North Carolina with a cap and t-shirt bearing the college’s logo and “Sterling, Colorado,” asking him to wear it to work and around Laurinburg. Perhaps he’ll help recruit some other online degree seekers in his travels closer to home. After all, technology does indeed let anyone learn anytime and anywhere.