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Interview: Dr. Ted Mims & Barbara Selvaggio, University of Illinois at Springfield

me-and-ted.jpg Dr. Ted Mims, Computer Science Department Chair with Barbara Selvaggio, the Computer Sciences' Department's Program Online Coordinator join us today to discuss distance education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at University of Illinois at Springfield.

UIS has been offering online courses since the late 1990's and was among the first "brick and mortar" institutions to offer degree and certificate programs online. We currently offer nine undergraduate degrees, eight graduate degrees, and nine certificates online.

In 2007, we received an award from the Sloan Consortium for Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Teaching & Learning. In 2008, the University was awarded the Ralph E. Gomery Award for Quality Online Education, also from the Sloan Consortium.

U.S. News & World Report's 2009 Edition of America's Best Colleges ranks UIS as the best public university, Master's category, in Illinois - and the fourth best public university in that category in the entire Midwest.

The Computer Science Department is certified by the Committee of National Security Systems and the National Security Agency.

The University began offering the B.S. in Computer Science online in Fall 2003, and the M.S. in Computer Science online in Fall 2005. Degree requirements are the same as those for our on campus programs and both degrees can be completed online without the need to visit campus.

Students enrolled in the undergraduate program have the opportunity to emphasize either Software Engineering or Systems Security & Information Assurance. Students enrolled in the graduate program may choose their coursework to provide depth of knowledge in selected computing areas.

Students enrolled in both programs are taught by the same award-winning computer science faculty who also teach on campus. Our programs have an excellent reputation, the direct result of the excellence of our faculty, the rigor of our programs, and the competence of our graduates.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

The Bachelor's is a degree-completion program. Students typically satisfy lower division General Education Core Curriculum (GECC) Requirements at other institutions, completing the B.S. in Computer Science Degree Requirements at UIS in less than three years, usually in two years. Our Online Program Coordinator, Barbara Selvaggio, assists applicants to find online coursework to satisfy the GECC Requirement and program entrance requirements prior to coming to UIS.

Our Master's students typically graduate in less than two years, usually one and one-half years. Classes are kept small, with about 25 students per section. Each of our Computer Science students is assigned a member of our Computer Science Faculty to provide Academic Advice.

What would you say makes University of Illinois at Springfield's programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

UIS is known for our "Global Reach, Personal Touch." We pride ourselves on building relationships with our students; we are particularly dedicated to promoting a sense of community among our online and on campus students. For example, Computer Science Club membership is open to online and on campus students. For the last two years, the Computer Science Club has hosted the ACM International Computing Contest.

Our faculty members are nationally known experts in their specializations: They know the subjects they teach and how to convey that knowledge in an online environment. Small class sizes provide lots of opportunity for student-instructor and student-student interaction.

Tuition and fees for students enrolled in online degree and certificate programs at UIS are affordable, in many cases much less than the out-of-state tuition and fees charged by other institutions.

For each online degree program, there is an Online Program Coordinator dedicated to assisting students and faculty members. From the student's first inquiry about the Online Computer Science Program until the student successfully earns his/her degree, the Online Coordinator assumes a partnership role with the student, ensuring the student enjoys the same access to information and services that is enjoyed by students enrolled in traditional degree programs.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

Accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission is extraordinarily important. Students with coursework taken from non-regionally-accredited institutions will find those courses may not transfer to UIS or to other regionally-accredited institutions. The UIS Office of Admissions evaluates international credentials to determine transfer credits.

There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does University of Illinois at Springfield take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

Degree requirements for the online programs are the same as those for the on campus programs. Computer Science faculty who teach online also teach the same courses on campus. Many of our courses require proctored exams. Incoming students for both programs are assessed when they enter the program and again during their last term.

What would you say are some of the benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

Our online degree and certificate programs make it possible for non-traditional students to pursue their educational goals. Students can "attend" their classes from anywhere at any time, which allows them to fulfill their commitments to family and work while earning their degree/certificate.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

The UIS Office of Experiential & Service Learning offers students opportunities to earn credit and, at the same time, gain practical work experience. In many cases, employers have hired our students as a result of their Applied Study Term appointment.

Does University of Illinois at Springfield offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

UIS has a strong Alumni Association, comprised of graduates and current students from all over the world. Our Career Development Center offers career counseling and job search assistance for students and alumni and sponsors Career Fairs. Both the Alumni Association and the Career Development Center specifically serve distant students.

For those who live close enough to drive to campus or a State Agency in Springfield, Illinois, UIS offers a number of graduate assistantship and paid internship opportunities, which are awarded through a competitive selection process.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Yes, through our Office of Financial Assistance.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

Though it may seem counterintuitive, online classes require more personal interaction with faculty and students. Online computer science courses are every bit as rigorous as our on campuses courses. Courses are not self-paced at UIS. They follow the same academic schedule set forth for the on campus courses. Students will devote on average from 10-16 hours per week to coursework for each computer science course.

What do you enjoy most about your position at University of Illinois at Springfield?

In my role as department chair, I enjoy working with our faculty members and support staff. They are enthusiastic and committed to making our degree programs the best. As a faculty member, I enjoy teaching the students. It is such a pleasure to have high quality students that are often employed and already working with cutting edge technologies. It is amazing to me to hear about complex projects the students have worked on in the past and those they are currently involved in. In addition, it is a delight to learn about the student's families and non-work related activities.

As Online Program Coordinator, I enjoy assisting our students to achieve their educational goals. From the time I first meet these potential applicants, through graduation and beyond, I like to discuss with them their aspirations and ideas, their challenges and triumphs. Many of our current students are already working in computing fields. It is my pleasure to assist them in documenting their experience for the application process. Some who inquire about the undergraduate program have little or no computing experience. I am most pleased to discuss the computing disciplines with them and to assist them in finding online courses to satisfy program entrance requirements. But what I most enjoy is watching our students graduate, knowing the value of their credentials will be recognized and will serve them well.

Thank you Ted & Barbara, for sharing and participating in this piece.

That concludes our interview!

For more information about the computer science distance education programs at University of Illinois at Springfield, visit them online.

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