Only a few weeks left. Sarai Zamora works eagerly at her laptop, completing one of her final assignments in her Master of Higher Education online degree. As she vigorously writes, she can’t help but remember the journey that got her here and the important interaction between teachers and students in online learning along the way.
Meeting a Mentor
For some, online education can feel isolating. If you are used to a classroom of students, working on your own at a laptop may be a lonely feeling at first. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. For Zamora, interaction between teachers and students in online learning came naturally. A huge reason for that was her professor and admissions representative, Dr. Mark Pohl.
Dr. Pohl and Zamora met in the spring of 2018. Zamora flew out to Winona Lake, Indiana, for an in-person visit at Grace College. Her pastor and mentor, Adam Copenhaver, introduced her to Dr. Pohl. Dr. Pohl welcomed her to Grace with enthusiasm and walked with her through the admissions process every step of the way.
“It was great to meet Sarai,” shares Dr. Pohl. “She and her family actually stayed at my sister’s house next door during their visit, which was such a fun way to get to know them.”
“I have always viewed Mark as a pillar of support,” shares Zamora. “Dr. Pohl was the one who ensured my admission process was a smooth one.”
Pursuing a Degree
Throughout Zamora’s educational journey at Grace as a counseling and criminal justice major, Dr. Pohl made himself available on a personal level and extended kindness to Zamora’s family. In her class with Dr. Pohl, she found that he was an encouraging professor. Zamora felt that there was a good balance of challenging academic rigor but still a gracious allotment for personal growth.
“I appreciated Dr. Pohl’s kind words as I was building my legal analysis,” shared Zamora. “But even more so, I appreciated his reminders that God has good plans for my future.”
Growing Outside of the Classroom
Zamora took on the daunting task of pursuing a Master of Higher Education online while completing her undergraduate degree through the accelerated program at Grace. Of course, this endeavor was not without its challenges. When Zamora started her class with Dr. Pohl, she found that there was a high academic standard but knew that it would be rewarding.
“Dr. Pohl allotted for personal growth and guided me by asking thought-provoking questions,” she reflects. “The generosity and reflection of Christ that Dr. Pohl has exemplified made me truly grateful to call him a mentor.”
Throughout her time in the Master of Higher Education online program and undergraduate degree, Zamora went through various personal obstacles that affected her growth, worldview and lifestyle outside of the classroom. One thing that she knew would be consistent was the support and intentionality she found in the online professors. Although she was not able to physically sit in a classroom with them, she found that the small class sizes gave her plenty of interaction between teachers and students in online learning.
“The servant leadership that each professor embodied encouraged me as an individual to press on and see my degree to completion. I feel known as an individual by my professors within this online program.”
One character trait that Zamora has grown in during her Master of Higher Education online is discipline. Enrollment at the graduate level requires determination, flexibility and persistence. She wanted this experience to be a positive chapter in her life that she could look back on with no regrets. She had to shift her mindset and lean on the Lord and not her own understanding.
“God really has given me the strength and discipline that I have needed to complete this program intentionally and gracefully,” says Zamora. “The Lord is my rock. I have persisted through and overcome hard times through His grace and not my own doing.”
Zamora was not the only one who noticed exponential growth. Dr. Pohl saw it too.
“Sarai has done a great job of seeing the best in people. During our class surrounding legal issues in higher education, I saw that she was not quick to jump to conclusions,” Dr. Pohl shares. “She has a very balanced view, a holistic picture of the world, and an ability not to discredit one side.”
The Key to Success
Zamora’s advice for prospective students? A relationship requires both parties to extend effort and intentional conversation. Zamora made it a goal to know her professors and communicate via email or phone calls. She found that professors wanted her to succeed.
“Whether they lived on the west coast or just minutes from Grace College’s campus, they always made themselves available.” Zamora shares.
According to Dr. Pohl after about six years of teaching, the best advice for new students is to reach out! Interaction between teachers and students in online learning is important, so taking initiative matters!
“When students communicate with us, we remember it!” Dr. Pohl shares, “Grace is different from so many other schools because there is a more personal, individualized approach. The class sizes are small, which allows us to make lasting connections with students, even though it is online.”
Dr. Pohl gives opportunities to build connections during online classes as much as he can. He starts each week with a brief introductory video and uses this video time to pray for students. Students have shared that this prayer time is meaningful and makes them feel that they can reach out when they need support.
“The professors have positively impacted my life mission and ministry,” shares Zamora. “I hope they can do the same for other students in the program because we truly are better together.”