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First distance degree program celebrates 25th anniversary|
By Karen Tuohey Wing
| Before the Penn State World Campus, before the Internet, before home computers, students were pioneering the concept of independent learning in Penn States Dietetic Food Systems Management program. This program, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has granted 180 associate degrees in the Dietetic Technician Program. Most graduates work in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities as dietetic technicians, food service managers, dietary managers and food service coordinators; many have started their careers in entry-level jobs and have used this degree to get on the professional ladder.|
Dr. Sara Jean Parks, director of the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management and initiator of the program, recalls how it began. We received a large grant from Allied Health Manpower Legislation to develop the program, and there were many naysayers who thought it could not be done. It was ahead of its time, but there was a real dedication and commitment on the part of the faculty to help women to pursue professional careers and to help them to develop self-worthwhen there were no other alternatives. An outreach team took a chance on what we were proposing and helped guide our program development, while providing expertise, resources and continued encouragement.
Today, the program reaches out to hundreds of individuals who want to change careers, improve themselves or just learn something new. It has been particularly successful serving women and minorities: the program had a 10 percent minority population in 200102. For most students, the program takes five to six years to complete, and a number of recent graduates have gone on to enroll in bachelors degree programs. Currently, there are two programs in dietetics available through distance education. The programs first graduate even went on to earn a masters degree.
Ellen Barbrow, assistant professor of dietetics and director of the program since 1986, said, The program opens doors for people. Earning a degree is a personal goal for many of our students. They might be the first in their family to get a degree, and it builds their self-esteem.
In a recent survey of graduates, 95 percent of respondents were satisfied with their overall experience with Penn States program. Two-thirds were very satisfied and made comments, such as: Without this program, I would not have been able to achieve what I have. The program allowed me to receive a degree on my own time and change careers as a nontraditional student.
Parks said, What is special about the program is that it has made a difference in our students lives. They feel more self-confident, and they did not have to quit their jobs or leave their families to come to Penn State. Indirectly, we hope we have also made a difference in the lives of the clients that our students (graduates) have served. This was one of the goals we had hoped to accomplish as we set out to develop the program.
We are now celebrating 25 years of helping women to feel better about themselves, because they are able to achieve a sense of accomplishment. And, we are doing this without ever meeting on a one-on-one basis, she added.
Because the program is offered through distance education, there are no geographic barriers to participating. Although Pennsylvania is home to 23 percent of the current students, students reside in 39 different states.
Were very impressed with the quality of the students, Parks said.
Until three years ago, all course materials were sent through the mail. As computers have become more available, the program has been enhanced by the Internet and e-mail.
The use of a computer helps the students complete the courses faster, Barbrow said. What used to take a year can now be done in eight months.
Graduates are eligible to earn the Dietetic Technician Registered credential from the American Dietetic Association, and 90 percent of the program graduates have earned this designation.
Weve always had a strong commitment to outreach, Parks said. This program has helped us serve the needs of people nationally and internationally. I cant think of a more important mission than that.
For more information about the Dietetic Food Systems Management program, visit the World Campus Web site at http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu.