Student in Online Degree Program Seizes Study Abroad Opportunity

May 11, 2023  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

Houston Garner
Houston Garner

Houston Garner took only one in-person course while earning his University of Arkansas bachelor's degree in supply chain management delivered online, and he went all the way to the ancient city of Rome to do it.

Garner is a member of the Texas Air National Guard, a bona fide world traveler, although many of his visits to 26 countries have been in the form of airstrip landings. He was deployed twice – to Kuwait and the Texas border – but had never been to Italy before he signed up for a marketing course through the Study Abroad and International Exchange office based in the Graduate School and International Education at the U of A.

Megan Hull is the assistant director of the Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange. She said Garner's world experience likely made him an ideal candidate for a study abroad semester, but she emphasized the office encourages all students to consider the opportunity.

"Houston was well prepared to thrive in a study abroad program, as he has already navigated immense ambiguity by moving abroad for his work in the U.S. military," Hull said. "I am sure his experience and confidence, in turn, helped the rest of the study abroad group acclimatize to life abroad, connect with the locals, and thrive in their study abroad program. Students who have lived, worked or traveled abroad are more likely to study abroad because they have already experienced for themselves how transformative, how humbling and how rewarding international exposure is."

However, Hull said, it is the goal of the Office of Study Abroad that every U of A student knows studying abroad is an option for them. It doesn't matter whether they are enrolled in an on-campus degree program or one delivered online.

"We encourage every U of A student to consider studying abroad," she said. "We want them to know there are multiple pathways to study abroad, and we will support them in navigating the study abroad process. We have had online students study abroad before and have more studying abroad this summer."


Effect of Pandemic

Hull said the number of U of A students studying abroad this year is expected to be the largest ever after a downturn in international mobility because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous highest number occurred in 2018-19 when 1,130 students studied abroad. The number of countries accepting U.S. students is climbing again, too.

"In pre-pandemic years, the U of A regularly sent students to over 50 different countries," Hull said. "In 2021-2022, we sent students to 34 different countries as the impact of COVID-19 made its presence known with border closures, high entry demands, and more. We do have well over 1,000 programs that students can participate in. Our portfolio is intentionally large in order for our students to be able to find the best program for them holistically."

In general, regardless of the pandemic, Hull said, fewer students enrolled in degree programs delivered online study abroad than those enrolled in on-campus programs. She has several ideas why:

  • Lack of exposure: Online students are less likely to attend the in-person Study Abroad Fair in the fall, are less likely to bump into a Study Abroad Peer Advisor tabling in the Union and are less likely to see that study abroad is a clear possibility for them.
  • Heightened familial and professional obligations: "I imagine that students studying online are more likely to have full-time jobs or be caregivers, making it potentially more difficult to study abroad for a longer stretch of time."


Benefits and Choices

Studying abroad offers significant benefits to students while in college and later, Hull said.

"Study abroad students are more likely to have higher grade point averages and graduate within four years than their peers who did not study abroad," she said. "Study abroad students are more likely to earn higher starting salaries than the applicants who didn't study abroad. In sum, study abroad students have honed critical career competencies in their programs that prepare them to thrive in any future situation and stand out."

To narrow down the search for a study abroad program that's a good fit for a particular student, Study Abroad advisors encourage students to think through four main considerations, Hull said:

  • Academics: What courses should I be looking for to advance my degree plan and remain on track to graduate?
  • Time frame: When is the best semester for me to study abroad? How long do I want to be abroad?
  • Location: Which destination is right for me?
  • Cost: What are my financial considerations?


Military Life

Garner, who was briefly stationed in Germany this spring while not living in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, works as a C130 loadmaster, which means he performs pre-flight and post-flight checks, loads and off-loads cargo and passengers, calculates weight and balance during flights, monitors the fuel panel and other systems, and performs airdrop duties. He is graduating in May and will complete his military commitment in December. He lived in several different places while enrolled at the U of A, including Little Rock and twice in Fayetteville but was deployed both times.

"(Military service) is why I looked into online programs," Garner said. "I realized I'm gone a lot. I traveled a lot even before COVID and online learning became a big thing. I got deployed in the fall of 2020 and I still managed to do school at the same time. It was a lot of work, but I got it done. Then, COVID was a big reason more people were going online. People were adapting. Learning and working online is part of our lives; people realize they can optimize their own schedules."

He chose supply chain management in part because his best friend was a year ahead of him in the program.

"I knew they had a really good supply chain program, and I loved the Arkansas tuition," Garner said. "At 24 years old, I will have six years of military service plus a degree. I think it will pay off."

Garner wanted the same college experiences as other students and attended athletic events, for one thing. For his study abroad experience, he enrolled in a marketing class that met at the U of A Rome Center. Groups of four students in the class each adopted a business district, performed a SWOT analysis of the district's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and presented their marketing research for their district.

"We gave our market research presentation to the stores so they could use the information," Garner said. "It was a really cool opportunity. We agreed on the target market, but we had different ideas of what Americans would be interested in."

The study abroad trip gave Garner the opportunity to explore the city with the tour guide provided by the U of A, including visiting museums and ancient sites.

Back in the U.S., Garner embraced his identity as a Razorback.

"I feel like part of the school; I'll be on Senior Walk," he said. "You can get a taste for the campus on a weekend. There is still an opportunity to feel part of the culture and tradition. All my teachers were great, and the study abroad teachers were really great, too."

Photo of Heidi Wells

Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

Online Learner Blog Home


Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Supply Chain Management

The supply chain management undergraduate program in the Sam M. Walton College of Business has been ranked No. 1 in North America by the leading global research firm Gartner. The rankings reflect excellence in three specific areas: industry value, program scope and program size.

Program Page


Related Articles