Distance students go the extra mile from the comfort of home


Kate Menzies

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Distance students go the extra mile from the comfort of home

Raelee Bishop isn't your typical college student.

She has managed to maintain a teaching career in western North Dakota and Montana all while pursuing a master's degree at the University of North Dakota in K-12 Counseling.

This was done with the help of UND's distance learning program.

Bishop was a Family Consumer Science instructor in Stanley, N.D., when she heard about the distance counseling program at UND through fellow Stanley teacher Sarah Sorenson, who was a veteran of the program already.

Bishop liked the idea of being able to pursue her master's degree without having to uproot her life.

"Even though the program is online, I feel as though I still learn as much as I would from being in a regular program," said Bishop, who is now working for a school district in her native Montana.

Dorlene Walker, coordinator of the UND master's school counseling distance program, firmly believes the program provides great benefits not only for its students but for local communities as well.

"It serves a population that wouldn't otherwise get served and brings highly qualified counselors to rural communities, Walker said.

Bishop recently left her job in Stanley to pursue an internship opportunity in Simms, Mont., where she takes care of the counseling duties for grades 7-12.

"It was a great opportunity for me to get paid and fulfill my internship requirement at the same time while gaining valuable experience in my chosen field," she said.

This internship is an important requirement for her counseling master's degree. She needs to fulfill 100 practicum hours and 400 internship hours to obtain her degree from UND. That's in addition to her other distance course work and the requirement to attend about a week of classes with her cohort on UND's Grand Forks campus a couple times a year.

For Bishop's former colleague in Stanley, Sarah Sorenson, the decision to pursue a counseling degree was hastened by a desire to improve the way students personal-social issues were being addressed at her school.

Sorenson is doing just that now as the elementary counselor in Stanley, a growing school district in the heart of the North Dakota oil patch.

"There are so many people who just need someone to listen to them, to believe in them or just notice them," Sorenson said. "I'm lucky, because as a school counselor, I get to be that person."

In her third year of the distance counseling program at UND, Sorenson recommended the program to Bishop because of her positive experiences.

"My professors and TAs (teaching assistants) have been encouraging and supportive while at the same time pushing me to work hard and teaching me the tools to be the best school counselor I can be," she said.

No matter the distance, Bishop and Sorenson agree that the UND's distance program provided them the right education for their passion to work with kids and become counselors.

Kate Menzies

University and Public Affairs student writer

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