Say “university,” and what often comes to mind are sprawling campuses, vast libraries and jam-packed sports stadiums. Yet in recent times, a rapidly increasing number of post-secondary students have been moving to a new landscape of online learning. The College…
This Family Bleeds Orange
Mary Welker ’20 is a mom, a role model to her four daughters, a full-time Syracuse University staff member, an Alumni Scholar and a recipient of the Nancy Gelling Award given to a student for high academic achievement.
In May, the University College Class of 2020 graduate shared the significant accomplishment of graduating from Syracuse University with her daughter, Abbey. Mary earned a bachelor of professional studies (B.P.S.) degree in creative leadership from University College and Abbey earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and rhetorical studies from the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Mary’s youngest daughter, Martha, will be a sophomore this fall in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The Welker family is strongly embedded in the Orange community. Mary, research coordinator in the Office of Professional Research and Development in the School of Education, has been a University employee since 2007. Her oldest daughter, Bridget Welker Moore ’13, graduated from the Falk College and works for InclusiveU in the School of Education. Bridget’s husband, Blaine Moore, is a U.S. Air Force veteran who is active in the New York Air National Guard and is working on an online B.P.S. degree in creative leadership at University College. Daughter Caitlin ’16 also graduated from the Falk College with a dual degree in public health and child and family studies and works as a human resources and employee benefits assistant at One Group.
Without a doubt, these five women are each other’s cheerleaders and support system. “My mom supports everyone she loves with blind faith,” says Caitlin. “She has always believed in us and continually reminds us we can do anything we put our minds to. Her perseverance, dedication and resounding work ethic motivates everyone around her to be a better person.”
“Nothing is more motivating than watching your successful mother challenge herself to learn and grow and accomplish something for herself,” adds Abbey. “We would do homework together and it pushed us to be better students.”
Juggling Life and School
Martha says that when she complained about her workload as a first-year student, she would watch her mom work all day, get dinner on the table in time for all of them to eat together and be ready to sign on to her 6:30 p.m. online class. Whenever Martha felt overwhelmed, she just had to look to her mom for encouragement. “She’s the first person I turn to when I’m feeling my best and feeling my worst,” she says.
Welker says she got her tenacity and work ethic from her father. “He was a man of few words, but he was the one you went to when were having a setback,” she says. “He always started his pep talks by putting things into perspective. He’d tell us to brush ourselves off and get back to work.”
She admits that there were many times when she asked herself if getting a degree was worth the effort of juggling work, family and other obligations. “What I realized is that it isn’t just about the degree; it’s about so much more than that,” Mary says. “I needed to prove to myself I could do it, and I learned so much about myself in the process.”
Welker credits the advisors at University College with helping her stay on track. “If it weren’t for the advisors at UC, I’m not sure I would’ve graduated,” she says. “They were always encouraging and understood the challenges of the adult learner. When I was confused about what to pursue, they didn’t try and tell me what I ‘should’ study, but instead asked me questions that allowed me to follow my passions. They are always available to answer questions.”
Welker was initially hesitant to earn a degree online, concerned that the experience would be impersonal. But as her learning progressed, she found she liked the flexibility of online classes and became comfortable with the style of learning. “The online format allowed for a more personal experience with the instructors and my classmates,” she says. “Over the course of the semester we all got to know each other, and by the end of the semester I always felt like I had made a few new friends and had an instructor that I could reach out to in the future.”
The online support team offered excellent student support, especially as the online platform can be intimidating for those who have never taken an online course before. “They anticipate where a student might need assistance and they put supports in place to address areas where students might need help,” Welker says. “UC offers practice sessions where they walk you through the online tools and then give you the opportunity to try things out before class starts. For me, it took some of the anxiety away from my first online class experiences.”
Credit for Prior Learning
Welker was part of a pilot program created through a partnership between University College and the School of Education. The Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program evaluates students’ knowledge gained through professional experience to determine if they qualify for college credits. She says that upon reflecting on her own past learning experiences, she understood that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom or office. “As a mother of a child with learning disabilities, you become an expert in learning disabilities. As a mother of a child with an autoimmune disease, you become an expert in that area as well,” she explains. “These experiences require research, management and communication skills—all which are required in college classrooms.”
Welker says the PLA courses were among the most valuable she has taken. In her work as an evaluator in the School of Education, she has had a great deal of experience that is translatable to college credits. “You are challenged to think about things from other points of view, and as you go through the exercises, you develop intellectual traits of confidence, fair-mindedness and perseverance,” she says. She earned 18 credits upon completion of the program.
The online bachelor’s degree in creative leadership included skills and tools Welker was able to integrate into her daily work. “There were many opportunities for me to simultaneously work on a course that translated directly to my work in evaluation,” she explains. She was able to bring real world experience and knowledge to the classroom. “As an adult learner, we experience college life with so much more than we did as a young adult. We have a very different lens and have immediate opportunities to put our learning into action at the workplace.”
“Mary is an insatiable learner,” says Scott Shablak, research professor and director of the Office of Professional Research and Development in the School of Education where Welker works. “She has a deep interest in education. She scours journals, seeks out experts and looks to increase her skills.” Shablak says that Welker’s greatest assets are her personal skills and strength of character. “She is one of those who has identified her core values and does her best to live a life reflective of those values and standards—at work and at home.”
Welker’s daughters watched as she juggled multiple tasks and difficulties with elegance and patience at home. Bridget Welker Moore said it was wonderful watching her mom channel her strength and tenacity toward earning her degree. “I hope she is able to see herself as we see her—as a strong, resilient, intelligent and kind-hearted person.”
An Orange Family
When the Welker women were asked what it means to “be Orange,” they had different definitions—but all of them reflect the ideals they were raised by. “Being Orange means being part of something bigger than myself; to contribute to my community in a direct and positive way,” says Bridget.
“Being Orange means being proud of who you are and where you’ve come from,” adds Abbey. “It’s about being part of a community of hard-working people who aren’t afraid to be who they are.”
According to the Welker women, their mom epitomizes that philosophy. And Mary Welker is not finished learning, as she plans to pursue a master’s degree. “I’m still researching possibilities. There are so many areas that I’m interested in that would complement my creative leadership degree,” she says.
As a mom, Welker is extremely proud of her daughters and their accomplishments. She’s looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild in September and watching her daughters as they navigate the paths they have chosen. But one of her proudest accomplishments is not giving up on herself. “Syracuse University has helped me and my family in so many ways. I’m so appreciative of all the experiences I’ve had.”
“This story only exposes the tip of the iceberg on the amazing human being mom is,” says Bridget. “She has lived multiple lifetimes in her short time on this planet and has done it with grace and an amazing sense of humor.”