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UMPI Online English Major travels 1,450 miles to march in graduation

The road to a college degree can be long for many college students, but it usually doesn’t involve a 1,450-mile, three-day road trip each way with a spouse and three kids in tow. But that’s exactly the journey that University of Maine at Presque Isle Online English major Heather Herbert and her family are taking—from their home in Cumming, Georgia, which is north of Atlanta, to Presque Isle—so she can receive her Bachelor’s degree in person.

Herbert is the first student from UMPI to earn her degree completely through online courses and then travel to campus to participate in its graduation ceremonies. She will be awarded her Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a dual minor in psychology and humanities.

“This is my first Bachelor’s degree,” Herbert said, explaining why her family opted for the journey. “I want my kids to see what happens when you get your degree. All they know is that mum has been living in the basement office for the last year, and I want them to see the pay off after the hard work.”

Getting her Bachelor’s degree is an important career step for Herbert, who works online for Darton State College in Albany, Georgia, which is 225 miles away from where she lives. Herbert serves in the college’s Online Writing Center and as a Phi Theta Kappa advisor. About a year ago, she was at the point where she’d earned two Associate of Arts degrees (in English and history) and one Associate of Science degree (in psychology), and knew that, if she was going to advance in her career, she would need to pursue a Bachelor’s degree. However, earning it at the nearest school with the program she wanted would mean a three-hour commute. She found about 12 institutions that offered online English degree programs, but found UMPI’s program to be the best fit.

“UMPI accepted more credits and had a lower residency requirement, which meant my fees would be lower,” Herbert said. “The program looked good, the price was better, and they took me, so it worked perfectly.”

Herbert said she has been impressed with the professors she’s had the chance to work with during her time at UMPI, and that she’s appreciated the opportunity to go into more depth in topics in her classes. Traveling to campus and meeting the professors and staff members she’s been interacting with over the last year, she said, just felt like the right way to cap off the experience.

Herbert, her husband John, and their children Eleanor, 12, William, 10, and Rosalind (Rosie), 7, will arrive on campus Thursday evening. This is everyone’s first visit to Maine except for Herbert, who used to vacation in Maine when she was a child.

Her plan? “I’m just going to wander around campus and see how many people I can meet. I have no set expectations or hopes,” she said. “This is about the experience of knowing whose name is on that important piece of paper.”

And once she gets that piece of paper, she already has plans for what comes next—earning her graduate degree so she can become a college professor and hopefully teach at Darton State. She’s been accepted to the Composition and Rhetoric program at Georgia State University, but it involves that three-hour commute. However, she also just received an acceptance to an Online Master’s Degree program in English for Language Arts Teachers at Valdosta State University, in the south of Georgia. The program only admits about five people with each cohort, so Herbert says she’s delighted to have been accepted.

Clearly, Herbert’s higher education journey isn’t over yet, but she’s taking some time to enjoy her achievement and her big day.

“I can’t even believe I’m almost done. Just over a year ago, I still didn’t know if I would be able to do my Bachelor’s degree. I’m so glad I found UMPI’s program. It’s just a huge relief to reach this milestone. I’m just so pleased. It’s fantastic. I’m delighted. And now, thanks to UMPI, I’m ready to start my Master’s degree in a few weeks. So it’s a little bit of basking, and then a lot of driving back home before I start the next step. Thanks to UMPI.”