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Brandi Nelson, Online MBA Student

By Erin Wood, Director of Marketing & Communications at UND’s partner campus, Lake Region State College

Story & Photo Courtesy of Lake Region Woman Magazine

When asked what woman inspires her, Brandi Nelson doesn’t hesitate in giving her answer.

“I’d have to say my mom. She’s always been supportive of me. It doesn’t matter what I do, she’s been proud of me.”

Being proud of Brandi is an easy thing to do. This determined young professional is like many Lake Region women; she works full-time, is a mom full-time, and is always looking at self-improvement.

When asked to describe Brandi in one word, many colleagues say “motivated.”

Brandi works full-time at Lake Region State College as the Instructional Services Program Coordinator—a position she’s held since October 2008.

“As the Instructional Program Coordinator, I assist the Vice President of Instructional Services to ensure our mission is always in sight.”

The mission of the Instructional Services program encompasses leadership, management, support, and informational services, which includes computer services, continuing education, workforce training, Interactive Video Network, academic skills center, adult basic education, library, and media services.

It’s a job she thoroughly enjoys because the job has a solid mix of routine tasks and new opportunities.

The Instructional Services area also provides leadership and support for course development and delivery. This includes providing assistance to faculty in their effort to deliver instruction.

Instructional Services supports faculty, staff, and students by procuring outside resources and recognition, in addition to providing professional development for faculty and staff.

Community and inter-institutional courses are offered. And, the staff maintains institutional computer networks and systems, in addition to managing institutional records and reporting requirements.

“Working in higher education, watching and assisting students in their educational endeavors is very rewarding,” she said. “There are so many things to do in higher education.”

Her other career as caregiver, nurturer, and mother also keeps her busy.

Brandi and her husband, Chad, are proud parents to son Weston.

In fact, one little mention of Weston’s name is all it takes to light up Brandi’s face. Pictures of him adorn her office and she’s lucky to have him nearby at the childcare facility located at the college. She and Weston are able to schedule lunch dates, which both enjoy.

Brandi said, "Weston is the driving force behind my pursuit of an advanced degree. I want to set an example for him that in order to succeed in life, you have to set goals and work hard to achieve them. It’s not always going to be easy. There are sacrifices you have to make and times when homework takes precedence over other pursuits, but a quality education will provide opportunities that would not otherwise be available."

And, like many working moms, Brandi has decided to go back to college to earn an advanced degree.

Brandi’s motivation for self-improvement and career progression has helped shape the decision for advancing her education.

“When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I thought I was done. But the more I thought about it, I wanted that master’s degree. It’s mainly for personal reasons, but it will give me an advantage if I want to move ahead in my career,” she said.

She looked for a degree that would fit into a lot of different job areas, and an MBA seemed to be the answer.

Within a week of seriously thinking about returning for an advanced degree, she started the process. Motivated.

She took the GMAT in March 2009, was accepted in April, made the changes and planned to fit college into her schedule, and started classes at UND in Fall 2009.

“It was really quick.”

Quick—yet another descriptor that adequately portrays Brandi. Have we mentioned her running?

"I have always had the broader points of my life planned: graduate college, get married, find a job that offered long-term possibilities, and start a family," said Brandi. "I have followed my plan exactly: I graduated college in 2005, got married January 21, 2006, and started my job at LRSC January 23, 2006. By the end of 2006, I was ready for the next step. With the desire to begin a family came the knowledge that to have a healthy pregnancy, I needed to take care of myself physically. I joined Mercy Therapy and Fitness, at that time known as Select Therapy and Fitness, in October, 2006 and within a month I was hooked. I ran my first marathon relay on Fargo in 2007 and since then have participated in approximately twenty marathon relays, 10K, and 5K runs. In addition to running, I teach group fitness classes at Mercy Therapy and participate in an exercise program called Get Fit. I exercise every day because I love it; the way I feel, the way I look, the sense of calm, the release of stress. I have learned to put aside the guilt of taking that one hour a day to do what I love because in the end it makes me who I am."

Even with all of the commitments on her plate, like many other Lake Region women, Brandi is also dedicated to the area she calls home, where family roots run deep.

She’s involved in the newly-activated Young Professionals Network here in the Lake Region, is a board member for the Lake Region Community Fund, and helps lead fundraising efforts for the college’s Relay for Life Team – including starting the first annual Run for Your Life walk/run this past summer.

Professional dynamo, proud parent, stellar student, dedicated runner – just how does she do it? Scheduling.

“I dedicate and schedule the time. It’s all built into my schedule: work, Weston time, workouts, friend and family time, Weston time, Weston to bed, and then homework.

Lake Region State College Instructional Designer Tammy Meyer echoes the importance of scheduling for adults looking at going back to college. “Also, don’t forget to schedule due dates, synchronous meetings, and study breaks as well,” said Tammy. “Take time to celebrate the small successes along the way, too. That can be so motivating.”

Higher Education opportunities here at home

Brandi is fortunate that she doesn’t have to go far to study for her Master’s in Business Administration. “The cost and time of traveling would have added up quickly,” she said.

Through technology, she is able to take her classes from the University of North Dakota via web camera.

“Location was a huge factor when looking at going back to school. You can’t put your family on hold for two years. I didn’t want my son to know that I was too busy with school. I do my homework at night when he is asleep and try to avoid weekends.”

So when her class meets, she connects via web cam. Students are located in the classroom at UND and numerous others join in like Brandi does.

“It’s not an online course. I have to be logged on to my computer and have the camera hooked up, but I interact with the other students just as if I was in the room with them.” Group projects are part of the classwork, so it is not uncommon for Brandi to be working with students from the core classroom or other webcam colleagues. The class is comprised of students from North Dakota, those from out of state, and students of varying ages. “We work together online to complete projects,” she said.

“The convenience is great. Wherever you have Internet you can access your course.”

Instructors also enhance the courses when they engage students taking the course at a distance, “making sure to involve you in the class,” Brandi said.

Meyer also emphasizes the importance of being engaged in class participation, regardless of how the class is held.“Engagement in assigned activities gives students the opportunity to take basic learning to the application level. This participation also gives peers the opportunity to learn from each other, which often times adds to the dynamics of the course. As with anything worth doing, effort should be emphasized. There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing success,” Meyer said.

And online and distance students shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarification.

Studying from a distance is not new to Brandi. It was how she earned her bachelor’s degree right here in Devils Lake.

When she graduated from Devils Lake High School in 2000, she looked at starting her college career in Devils Lake at Lake Region State College.

“I knew that I was going to be paying for college out of my own pocket and I knew the quality at LRSC was the same or better than any other college or university.”

After graduating from LRSC in 2002, Brandi contemplated moving away to go into accounting. A friend told her about the bachelor’s degree in Business Administration being offered in Devils Lake from Mayville State University. Before she knew it, she was registering for the Mayville State University program in Devils Lake. She graduated from Mayville the summer of 2005.

Lake Region State College has been working with Mayville State University since 2001 and the University of North Dakota to provide opportunities for working adults to earn bachelor and master degrees without leaving their community or uprooting family and moving.

“That is a huge benefit to adult students,” Brandi said. “I can remember when I was in Kindergarten and we moved to Grand Forks so Mom could get her degree in education—it was a huge struggle for us financially and it was hard being away from family, but we made it work.”

Her mom is helping her make it work today. Brandi said she has lots of family support from her mom, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and Chad.

Things like housework become a number 100 priority. “They help support me in going back to school and make sure I have time for me. They pick up my slack. When it comes to finals week and I’m crunched or need some me time, they’ll take Weston.”

“Surrounding yourself with a positive enthusiastic support group is a key to success for anyone looking at college, especially working adults who are busy with family and outside activities,” says Donna Gutschmidt, LRSC associate professor of marketing/management.

“They will cheer you on towards success. Everyone is busy. You have your job, your family, kids, numerous activities to attend, etc. The workload at home doesn’t stop when you become a student.”

Those support groups are important, regardless of which format your courses are in.

Another key to success is to register for one class.

“A person can easily become totally overwhelmed when one thinks about completing an entire degree. You have to take baby steps. Start out with one class. Get your foot in the door and get started. Complete that one class and then you’ll realize ‘that wasn’t so bad’ and you’ll be ready for another class the next semester. Before you know it, the checklist of required classes that you need to complete your degree is smaller and smaller,” said Brandi. “You’ll be going across the graduation stage and thinking ‘WOW! That went fast!’.”

It’s also important to find out the delivery mode of the classes. The offerings from Mayville State University are face-to-face, over the Interactive Video Network, and online.

While online education has its benefits, it also tends to have its own challenges. Students who choose this route have to be self-motivated and able to manage their time well.

“Your discipline and accountability are much higher when studying from a distance—online, web camera, even IVN. You need to focus more because you are not in a classroom physically in front of the teacher so more distractions arise,” Brandi said.

To ensure success in the online “classroom,” Meyer suggests that students log in to their learning management system once they are able. Going through all tutorials and the syllabus will give the student a chance to become familiar with the course layout, the instructor’s expectations, policies, and procedures.

“Taking time to get comfortable with necessary technology will also be a priority,” Meyer said.

Brandi’s work with technology allows her to be comfortable with the course delivery options; she plans on completing her degree Fall 2011.

After that, who knows what goals are next for the professional dynamo?

When asked about future goals, Brandi was enigmatic, stating that she doesn’t want to say specifically because there so many things to do—so many things that can pop up in the meantime.

“Five, 10 years from now? Hopefully I’ll be the mother of more than one, with an MBA, working at Lake Region State College.” [LRW]

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