PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — By the time the 105th commencement ceremony began at the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Saturday, most of the 138 graduates taking part in the event likely were thrilled they would never have to see the college, its classrooms, library or laboratories again.
But for Heather Herbert of Cumming, Georgia, it was an entirely different feeling. That was because donning her cap and gown as a college graduate at UMPI was only her second full day on campus.
Herbert made a 1,450-mile, three-day road trip to UMPI with her spouse and three kids in tow to receive her bachelor’s degree in English with a dual minor in psychology and humanities on Saturday. She was the first student from UMPI to earn her degree completely through online courses and then travel to campus to participate in its graduation ceremonies.
The Georgia resident, who had never been to Aroostook County but had vacationed in the Sebago Lake area as a child, arrived at UMPI late Thursday evening with her husband, John, and children, Eleanor, 12, William, 10, and Rosalind, 7. The group stayed in a guest suite in one of the residence halls, and Herbert spent most of Friday connecting with the professors whose classes she had taken during her time at UMPI.
“I really wanted to make the trip to campus because this is my first bachelor’s degree,” she explained Friday. “I wanted my children to see the reward for the hard work that their mom has been putting in down in the basement office for the last year.”
Prior to enrolling at UMPI, Herbert had already earned an associate of arts degree in English and one in history, and she earned an associate of science degree in psychology. She recognized that in order to advance in her career as a Phi Theta Kappa advisor in the Online Writing Center at Darton State College in Albany, Georgia, however, that she would need to earn a higher degree.
“You would think that there are plenty of colleges in a state like Georgia,” she said. “But where I live is educationally underserved. Its an hour and a half one way to the nearest college. A three hour commute is a big deal for anyone, but especially for a wife and mom with a full-time job and three children that she has to get ready for school and put on the bus each morning.”
Herbert set about researching schools where she could earn an English degree entirely online, and she knew instantly that UMPI would be the perfect fit.
“There are about 12 colleges out there that offer online English programs, but I really felt welcomed at UMPI before I even enrolled,” she said. “UMPI accepted more credits and had a lower residency requirement, which meant my fees would be lower. The program looked good, the price was better, and they took me, so it worked perfectly.”
On Friday, she lauded the professors she worked with during her online courses. She said that she appreciated the opportunity to go into more depth in topics in her classes. Like any college student, however, she admitted that it was a grind holding down a job while also going to school. Managing three children and a household made it even more challenging.
“I found myself sleeping only about three to five hours a night,” she said. “I spent eight to twelve hours at my job and then 10 hours a day at school. My family was so supportive, though. I couldn’t have done it without them. We always made sure we had dinner together as a family before I disappeared into my basement office for the night to study.”
But despite earning her bachelor’s degree, Herbert has no plans to stop. She has already been accepted to graduate school 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 the three-hour commute that deterred her from choosing it for her bachelor’s program. She also was accepted 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 said she’s delighted to have been accepted.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I really would love to teach at the university level one day, but right now, I am just focusing on taking it one step at the time. A year ago, I didn’t even think getting a bachelor’s degree was a possibility, and now I am looking at a master’s. This would not be a reality without UMPI.”