"I found the University of Arkansas Online through the U.S. News & World Report ranking of online degree programs."
Nathanael Martin-Nelson, 26, is an electrical engineering master’s student at the University of Arkansas living in what he calls the “teeny tiny” town of Ada, Ohio. His current, and most important title, is stay-at-home dad to his 1-year-old daughter while his wife is in law school. On top of his schoolwork and family life, this summer he maintained a full-time internship with a local utility company, FirstEnergy.
Martin-Nelson decided to pursue a graduate degree because he wanted to solve hard problems and be qualified for a job where he could solve difficult, nonroutine technical problems. He chose an online degree program for accessibility.
“I live in this area in Ohio where there's not accessibility,” he said. “I'm quite far away from graduate programs, so that would be a long commute. I'm able to get a program I want from a couple hundred or more miles away, which is really, really beneficial. I would have to live in only a few select places in the country if I wanted to get that otherwise.”
When searching for online graduate schools, he found the University of Arkansas Online through the U.S. News & World Report ranking of online degree programs.
The asynchronous classes are great for balancing his professional life as well as his family needs.
“I've been able to do homework when the baby's down for a nap, after she goes to bed, or while she's playing,” Martin-Nelson said. “I've been able to work at the pace that I need to. And I show up to the weekly meetings and get the help that I need.”
One thing he really likes about online education is the feeling that he is in charge of his own learning.
“I don't see the professors every day, so sometimes I just spend the extra time to figure it out myself instead of just asking after trying for only a little bit,” he said. “I've really enjoyed that. I feel like I've learned more.”
Martin-Nelson utilizes university resources, attends virtual events, and is a member of university organizations.
“I very much enjoy the library,” he said. “I use that a lot for academic papers and thesis research.”
He has also been able to use the Career Center.
“I've been able to set up a meeting with the career adviser, and she went through my resume and my career strategy,” he said. “I'm very grateful for that. It felt like I was an in-person student, like there was no difference. I've also gone to the career fairs. I found additional career paths that I was interested in.”
Even from afar, he has been able to attend a variety of virtual campus activities like thesis defenses and dissertation defenses. He is also part of the People, Planet and Profit Project, or P4.
According to Martin-Nelson, “there's a certification business can get oriented towards helping not just their shareholders, but also their workers and people affected by their work. P4 helps Arkansas companies get this ‘B Corp’ certification. It has been very fun to be able to do that all the way from Ohio.”
When it comes to recommending this program to others, Martin-Nelson said, “Definitely.”
He also has advice for someone considering studying online. The first piece of advice he would give is to “realize that it's an opportunity to be in charge of your own learning. You'll have a lot of independent study time, and you get to choose how you deal with that.”
The second is that “sometimes emailing professors is difficult, so I would recommend being a little bit persistent if the professors didn't understand your question or trying to set up some face-to-face virtual time to clarify.”
He admits that staying in touch with professors and classmates is “a little bit of a challenge. But, Blackboard is helpful, especially to send an introduction and ask if anyone wants a study partner.” He also finds professors’ regular office hours to be really helpful.
Martin-Nelson was very excited about receiving the W.E. Manning Memorial Scholarship, as his previous understanding and experience had been there was not a lot of financial support for graduate students.
Although the scholarship amount may seem like a “pretty small dollar value,” he said, it is “pretty substantial” due to the affordable cost of the U of A. With this scholarship, it will help him avoid going into any debt for school and increases his flexibility when it comes to what he wants to do next, whether that be accepting a job or going on to pursue a Ph.D.
“It gives more freedom,” Martin-Nelson said, “I’m very grateful for that.”
He expects to graduate in May 2023, and once his wife graduates, they can move anywhere. Martin-Nelson said the “future is a big question mark.” While his dream is to design better, cheaper high voltage DC electrical equipment, it is still a smaller sector of the power field. If that doesn’t happen, he foresees his career probably somewhere at the nexus of policy and the electrical grid.