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Finished by Fifty

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Posted on Jul, 30 2012

With over 30 years of experience in the professional communication field working in advertising, newspaper, radio, and web, Denise Swain decided, as the advertising field began to shift, it was time for a career change to secure her future. However, in order for that to happen, she needed to decide what it was that she wanted to do and how she could attain the credentials in order to do so. It did not take Swain long to decide that her goal was to share her professional experience and teach communication classes at area colleges, and to do so she needed to head back to school to earn her master’s degree. After many years of thinking about going back to school and researching programs that fit her needs, Swain decided the online speech communication master’s program offered through North Dakota State University Distance and Continuing Education was a perfect fit.

Swain knew she was ready for a career change in 1998, and it wasn’t until 2003, that she decided to seriously begin considering graduate programs. However, after being away from school for 27 years, she felt paralyzed to apply to a graduate program because of having to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Three years later, a medical procedure left Swain with some time off from work so she set a goal to begin studying for the GRE, apply to a graduate program, and earn her master’s degree by the time she turned 50 years old. With these goals in mind, she sat down to share her aspirations with her husband and her son, who was in 6th grade at the time. Swain is still grateful of how supportive and understanding her husband was about her wanting to go back to school. He understood the importance of this goal to his wife and was encouraging every step of the way. Interestingly, it was their son who raised the question of, “Mom, how are you going to be able to work, pick me up from school, cook, come to my soccer games, and have time to go to school yourself?”

Not wanting to leave her current roles as a wife, mother, and full-time professional, Swain knew that she needed to find a master’s program that was online. Like her son said, she knew that for her there was no way that she could work a full day, go home and care for her family, and find time to sit in a classroom during the week. The Swains live in Alabama, so when Swain began searching for graduate programs, she had four criteria the program needed to fit: offered fully online, accredited, the degree earned had to be in speech communication, and allowed her to stay in her current roles. The speech communication master’s program at NDSU was and still is one of the first and few of its kind offered, and Swain thought it would be a great fit. So, with some coaching from her family and even some math tutoring from her 6th grade math whiz son, Swain completed the GRE and enrolled in NDSU’s program the following fall semester. 

The fully-online speech communication program was just in its beginning stages when Swain began the program, and over time she said the students and instructors learned and utilized new ways to interact with each other in the courses. She said the early courses she took only involved interaction with the instructor, but later ones involved online presentations and discussions that allowed the students from all over to share their thoughts and experiences. Swain enjoyed all of the courses she took and had to adopt a “work when you can” mentality early in the program in order to maintain her many roles. She said she always brought a textbook or computer with her and found herself even getting work done outside on the soccer field while watching her son play! She knew the times she worked best and often found herself getting up at 3 a.m. to work on readings when her mind was fresh and that she was able to resume working on assignments at night after coming home from work and spending time with her family, and needed to end around 8 p.m. when she had had enough for the day. What worked for her may not work for all, but she reiterated that online learning is a great solution for those that are serious about what they set out to do.

In December of 2010, just nine weeks after celebrating her 50th birthday, Swain made the trip to Fargo, ND to participate in commencement when she graduated with her master’s in speech communication. She is currently starting to solidify her future already using her master’s degree by teaching public speaking classes at a nearby community college in Alabama. In the future, she hopes to be able to use what she experienced and learned as an online student to teach distance learning courses for others, teaching advertising, public relations, or other communication-related classes.

To find more information on the online speech communication master’s program go to http://www.ndsu.edu/dce/degrees/graduate/ms_ma_speech or for more information about other online degree programs visit http://www.ndsu.edu/dce/degrees/
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