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Updated: November 02, 2015


Online Degree graduate Christine Puente

Davis Woman First Visits Foothill Campus On the Day of Her College Graduation

Student Completes Foothill Associate Degree Entirely Online, Set to Transfer to UCLA

Cristina Puente’s first day on a college campus was unconventional. Instead of going to class, she walked with her class—the Foothill College Class of 2015—across the stage to receive her associate in arts for transfer degree in sociology.

Although she’d never set foot on the campus in Los Altos Hills until the day of the college’s 55th annual commencement ceremony, the new Foothill alumna completed her entire 90-unit associate degree by taking college-level coursework entirely online via Foothill’s popular online learning program.

One of the first California Community Colleges to offer online classes as early as 1995, Foothill’s online learning program now offers more online courses than any other Bay Area community college. Each 12-week quarter, Foothill offers more than 250 online classes to students who study around the corner and around the world.

“I chose to study at Foothill College because of its diverse curriculum, which allowed me to explore various subtopics within an academic discipline,” Puente says. “Whether at Foothill, UCLA or where ever my education takes me, the more I learn, the more I continue to transform my entire perception of reality—even if that reality started by taking virtual classes.”

Puente is the first to admit that her path through community college has been unconventional. The 18-year-old graduated from Davis Senior High School in 2014, completed her associate degree in just one year, and will soon transfer to UCLA to major in anthropology with a socio-cultural emphasis.

“I’m off to UCLA in September, but this summer, I’m babysitting, serving as a Spanish and art tutor, working at a Pinkberry yogurt shop and doing an internship with Freedom from Hunger. That might sound overwhelming, but it keeps me focused on my future—and focused on saving for my future,” Puente says. “My goal is to save $10,000 by the time I leave for UCLA, and I’m nearing my goal. Saving that sum of money would not have been possible without the ability to take courses online. Since my studies take place via the Internet, I’ve been able to work during the day and ‘be at school’ online, after. Online learning has been an enormous convenience, and I’m incredibly thankful that Foothill College offers online education as an option.”

Puente, who enrolled in Foothill’s online learning courses in 2014, took advantage of eligibility that permits any high school student to concurrently enroll in community college classes in California at no cost. High school students do not pay per-unit fees to enroll in community college classes. However, they must purchase required textbooks and instructional materials, and keep up with the academic rigor and intensity of college-level courses.

Although she lives more than 100 miles from the Foothill campus, Puente was impressed with the convenience, availability and variety of Foothill’s online courses. “I’m a long-distance student,” she says. “The two-hour drive to the physical Foothill campus was not an option for me. But the variety and availability of Foothill’s online courses gave me great options. Since I started online college classes while I was also attending high school, I had the flexibility of attending high school during the day and returning to my home to continue my college-level studies online.”

Puente points to several critical study skills that she had to master to succeed as an online learner, including independence, time management skills and self-direction. “As an online student, you may not see an instructor who reminds you of assignments and deadlines, so it’s up to you to be independent, take charge of your coursework, keep up with studying and discussion forums that are part of the online course,” she says. “Taking online courses means making your own schedule and that requires practice. Learning to effectively budget my time to study and meet my online course obligations was a challenge. But I did it. I learned to multitask and balance my high school advanced placement assignments and my college classes.”

Although they are delivered online, Foothill’s online courses are not self-paced. They are as academically rigorous as their traditional in-person course counterparts, and require the student to develop self-discipline and a dedicated study ethic. In addition to online instruction, Foothill offers a variety of student support services, including an online library and phone consultations with academic counselors. Puente also accessed learning resources in her Davis community, including weekly tutoring sessions.

“As an online student, my Foothill instructors made it very clear that I’m responsible for learning the material, participating in online discussions with fellow students, completing assignments, research papers and exams, and doing hours and hours of reading,” she says. “I found that some information was more challenging to grasp because it was delivered online instead of a traditional, in-person classroom setting. This lead to the most important discovery of my online learning experience, which is that you must ask for help and seek out available resources. This is absolutely critical when you’re an online student.”

What Puente values most about online learning is the flexibility it offers. “I enjoy the independence of being able to create my own agenda,” she says. “I like being able to ‘be at school’ and submit assignments wherever I am, be it my bedroom or a small village café in the Andes Mountains. My computer and my online classes have traveled with me to Europe, South America and Central America. Even while abroad, I was able to continue my college studies. This would not have been possible had I been a traditional on-campus student. Online education may not be for everyone, but for me, it was a perfect fit.”

But it was more than flexibility that sold Puente on the idea of pursuing her college studies online. It was the talent and passion for teaching of Foothill’s online faculty that greatly impressed Puente. She found her online instructors to be helpful, kind and passionate about the material they teach. “My professors were responsive, dedicated members of the Foothill College faculty. They demonstrated excellence at being teachers even to students from distant locations. Foothill’s professors and counselors have all been very kind and prompt to address any issues, always ensuring my success. Many of them stand out to me as great mentors, specifically Foothill English Instructor Samuel Fleischer and Anthropology Instructor Linda Neff.”

Puente encourages other students considering online education to not discount this learning option if they don’t have significant technology skills. “I worked on a regular laptop computer and used PowerPoint, Word and Excel software programs for my studies and class projects. I didn’t have to become a tech expert to navigate Foothill’s online classes. One reason for this is Etudes, Foothill’s online learning portal system. It is by far my favorite online course system. The format is easy to navigate, doesn’t require special skills and didn’t require me to make a big financial investment in computer hardware. I could even access my classes from the Etudes site from my mobile phone. That is truly how handy the Etudes system is!”

When she begins her junior year at UCLA, the one-time entirely online student says she intends to take in-person classes that meet on campus, at least for the first year to broaden her learning style.

Online or in person, Puente says that higher education is woven into the fabric of her family. Although she is a first-generation American, she’s not the first in her family to attend college. Puente’s parents, both college graduates themselves who emigrated to the U.S. seeking more professionally challenging careers, were supportive and encouraged her decision to pursue a college education online. Her mother, Marta, holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia. Her father, Carlos, holds bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and mathematics from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, as well as two masters’ degrees and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a professor in the UC Davis Land, Air & Water Resources Department. Puente also cites the support of tutor/mentor Amy Levin, who Puente describes as “my biggest supporter and guide through my unconventional college journey.” Levin, who is pursuing a college counseling certificate online through UCLA Extension, is a student member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Also a resident of Davis, Levin is interested in mentoring non-traditional students, including first-generation college students, immigrants, and students with disabilities.

“For me, earning the Foothill associate degree is a symbol of achievement of my hard work and devotion to my studies,” Puente says. “It means I’m on the path to a bright future. It’s even more meaningful to me because of how proud my family is of my success having completed the associate degree and transferring to a university with junior-level standing after graduating from high school just one year ago. My family and mentor have driven me to be determined and inquisitive, challenge limits and find innovative solutions to solve problems.”

Puente is less sure of her specific career pursuit, but as a multimedia artist who favors painting, drawing and photography, she intends to seek out a career that incorporates her love of art, as well as her passion for human rights, race and cultural matters.

“I intend to pursue a creative career,” she says. “Being an artist is more than creating art, it’s a mindset of possibility and innovation. As an artist, I have a responsibility to create and redefine limits. I’m interested in career pursuits that will enable me to affect change. All of the knowledge that I have acquired through Foothill’s online learning program has changed me. It’s undoubtedly a part of who I am now, how I think and how I perceive the world around me.”

The Foothill College online learning program offers 13 associate degrees that students can complete entirely online, including accounting, anthropology, art history, economics, general studies/social science, graphic and interactive design, history, humanities, music, music technology, psychology, sociology and women’s studies. Specialty certificates are also available to complete online, including tax accounting, medical anthropology, Pro Tools operator-post, payroll agent, Web design and development and many others. To review online courses and degrees, or learn more about Foothill’s online learning program, access foothill.edu/fga/. Fall classes begin the week of Sept. 21.

Register now at foothill.edu/admissions.php.

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