Discovering what online education can do changed Brandy’s life. She wants to spend the next phase of her career designing online learning programs and taking them to the next level. “Life is changing so fast. The world is constantly changing. Education is changing. I want to be a part of that process of understanding how it’s changing so that we can best adapt to that changing world,” she said.

When she looks at Calbright, where she’s a student in the Data Analysis program, she sees someone doing it right. 

“I love that Calbright is designed for the online adult learner first,” Brandy said. “We’re not the afterthought. I love that Calbright is designed for me instead of expecting me to twist myself up into pretzels to try to fit a school. I feel like my needs, my challenges, my struggles, are all taken into account at the beginning, and solutions are offered to me, instead of having me try to chase down the support I need. That has been so wonderful and affirming and encouraging for me, especially coming out of an environment where I felt like I was trying my very best to fit what they wanted and ultimately I couldn’t be that. Calbright supports me in finding my best self, and that has been so amazing.”

Working with Calbright’s Career Services, she’s already found part-time jobs that help her pay her bills while she works on her education and supports her family. “Calbright’s free, but I still needed to have some income while I studied, so one of the first things I did was attended some Career Services resources,” Brandy said. “They helped me put out 20 job applications for the kind of work I wanted to do while I was in school, and after three weeks I had 10 interviews and eight job offers, so I could take my pick. I really credit the support that I got through Calbright’s Career Services with that, so I can make ends meet while I equip myself to find the full-time job of my dreams.”

An Online Learning Journey

Before she became a Calbright student, Brandy had been a teacher, guidance counselor, and even a vice principal for private high schools. The kind of schools that families have sent their kids to for generations and are all about tradition.

Then the pandemic hit, and they had to adapt to online learning.

“The school I was with went online just like every other school when the national emergency was announced,” Brandy said. But unlike so many schools, it went well. Their school had resources, it had a supportive community. 

“Every kid at our school had an iPad, so we all went home and continued following our schedules and meeting with our students. It was an incredible experience compared to most schools,” she said.

Over the summer, the school decided to go back to in-person classes in the fall, even though vaccines had not yet been developed. “That wasn’t something that I was prepared to do, and it turned out there were about 40 families who weren’t able to return to school on campus before the vaccines were released,” Brandy said. “And so the heads of school came to me and said we would like to create something for these students so they can stay on track with our program, but we don’t want them just ported into our classrooms, we want something designed with them in mind. And we know from your time with us that you’re the person who probably most encompasses all of the different skills that would be involved in something like this, and we go live and start classes in four weeks. Will you do it?”

She said yes, and did everything it took to make it happen: She made plans, she selected a Learning Management System, she evaluated curriculum designed for online learners, “instead of just textbooks thrown on the internet.” She adjusted plans and designs when it became clear changes needed to be made. She troubleshot tech issues as they came up.

“We ran the whole thing for about 40 families, sixth through twelfth grades, across seven primary subject areas,” she said. “And by the end of the year, when there were vaccines, each one of our students who was still in California was able to come back to regular classes the next fall and did great.”  

It was the highlight of Brandy’s life as an educator, “and this was something that we threw together in just four weeks and kept going with our intensity and passion and wanting to be there for these kids,” she said. “It was an amazing experience to create a learning environment with online learners in the forefront, not as an afterthought.”

She wanted to continue this work, to keep innovating, and took a new job at a new school that asked her to do that work.  But as the pandemic wound down, the school’s parents and students “wanted to go back to business as usual. They wanted it to be the way things had always been, when the parents had gone here, and their grandparents had attended this school. And I realized I wanted to go someplace where a desire for innovation and trying new things and doing something unique and special was what the organization wanted, and I wouldn’t feel like I was the sore thumb sticking up.”

So she left the school, left her job, and asked “where do I go from here?”

That’s when she found Calbright.

Competency-Based, Flexible: An Online Community College Designed For You

Brandy knew what she wanted to do: build the best online education programs schools had ever seen. But “most of the types of schools that I had built all of my credentials and experience with were the kinds of schools that wanted to do things the way they’ve always done them, not innovate. I don’t want to ‘get back to normal,’ I want to do things better than normal. So I was looking for opportunities. How do I segue into a different part of the industry?”

Looking at the kind of jobs she wanted to take, she saw that most of them required expertise in the use of data. “And I knew I used a lot of data through all of these processes when I was designing online learning,” she said. “So I was like: This would be great if I could get a certificate, fill in any gaps in my experience or knowledge, get a certificate to demonstrate that, and then maybe qualify for some new types of jobs where I could be looking at data to help make decisions based on how things are now instead of how they were 30 years ago.”

She saw that Calbright was a perfect fit.

“I had a bit of that ‘is this too good to be true?’ experience,” she said. “But I signed up and attended. And now I’ve just fallen in love with Calbright. The organization, the student body, every employee that I’ve worked with, everyone has just been so warm and welcoming and supportive, and it’s just been amazing!”

In addition to it being free, she especially loves that Calbright is competency-based, and flexibly paced.

“I’m a later in life adult learner, not an 18-24 year old, and I really appreciate not being required to sit through classes or videos or lessons on the things that I already know,” Brandy said. “I can be assessed and demonstrate ‘yeah, I know that,’ and then move on to learn things that are new for me. That really helps me prioritize my time and energy. And then it fits with my life. When I needed to take a month away because I was starting two new jobs, I didn’t have to worry that I would be penalized, that I would be dropped, that my grades would hurt, or someone would think any less of me. I could just communicate to my professor and student success advisor and say – ‘hey, this is a crazy time for me, I’m going to check back in a month.’  And know that they respect me as an adult, and said ‘okay, great, we’ll check back in with you in a month and see if you need any help.’ And anyone who reached out during that time, they were just saying ‘hey, we just want to see if you need anything, how are you doing?’”

Overall, she says, “Calbright is supportive rather than judgmental. And I really love that. That’s what I get at Calbright, is support instead of judgment.”

An Education For People Making Big Changes

Calbright’s most recent student experience survey shows that 91% of Calbright students will recommend it to their friends. Brandy is one of them.  She has convinced her husband to enroll in the Data Analysis course, and her brother too. “We’ll talk about the different assignments and experiences we’re having,” she said. “It’s great.”

Calbright has offered her an education she values, a community she loves (she’s become President of the student government), and helped her find the jobs she wants while she studies. She said the experience is exactly what she needed to help her make a big transition in life.

“It’s designed for people like me,” she said. “I don’t feel like it’s a mill trying to churn people out. It’s not saying: Here’s a standard, can you jump this high? Calbright’s saying: ‘Hey, if this is a mountain you need to get over, we’re going to build some ladders for you and set up some rappelling equipment. If that’s the challenge you need to surmount, let’s see how we can help get you over it,’ That’s been really fantastic for me.”

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