By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – When the University of Nebraska at Kearney recognizes its winter graduates next week, Aleah Hines will be more than 1,000 miles away, watching the ceremony online from her home in Quebec, Canada.
The soon-to-be 20-year-old has never been on the UNK campus or even visited Nebraska. Yet, she’s graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and minors in accounting and marketing/management.
Hines completed her undergraduate education entirely through UNK Online – and it only took her 3 1/2 years.
“I really loved it because I’m really organized and very disciplined in my studies, so I thought it was convenient to be able to make my own schedule. I really enjoy having that freedom,” said Hines, who worked part time as a lifeguard, swimming instructor and lifeguard manager while taking classes.
When she was unable to work because of the COVID-19 shutdown, she gained additional credits through summer and January intersession courses.
“For me personally, there weren’t that many challenges,” Hines said of her education. “Obviously you have to be disciplined and you have to stay motivated on your own, but I think that goes for any college student, even if you’re in person.”
Flexibility is one of several selling points that attracted Hines to UNK’s online program.
She graduated from high school at age 16, so she didn’t want to move too far from home. Because Quebec is a French-speaking province – and Hines completed high school in English – there weren’t many local college options.
“I do speak fluent French, but my first language is English, so I just feel more comfortable learning in English,” she said. “And I may want to go to the United States later for a career.”
Luckily, her older sister Alyssa made the search pretty painless. Alyssa was pursuing a master’s degree in biology through UNK Online – she graduated in spring 2020 – so Hines was already familiar with the university and its programs.
“I really liked how organized it was and how easy it is to communicate with professors,” Hines said. “There are a ton of classes available, even for online students, and there are plenty of resources to help you, like the Learning Commons tutoring center and online library.”
She even connected with a couple classmates and they formed a virtual study group.
“That was actually a surprise to me, because going online, that was something I was worried about. I wasn’t sure if we’d have a lot of that community feeling or connections with classmates,” Hines said. “We had a lot of group projects, and we’d work through Zoom or communicate by email. That was something I found helpful.”
“Completing this degree means a lot to me because I feel like it’s opened so many more career options for me,” she said. “I feel like I can do anything I put my mind to.”
With her last final complete, Hines plans to celebrate with family and friends this weekend. She officially graduates Dec. 16, two days after her 20th birthday.
In January, she’ll start the Master of Business Administration program through UNK Online, specializing in human resources.
“I liked the program so much I’m doing it again,” Hines said with a laugh.