Hello From the Other Side

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Now that we’re all humming along to Adele in our minds, let me say hello! 

Welcome to what I find is a subtly charming time of the year. I recall my own spring semester beginnings: unlike the excitement of fall, they didn’t come with the thrill of buying new school supplies (which I indulged in all the way through my doctoral studies!). The days were shorter, the weather at times gray and uninspiring. Staying motivated was sometimes a challenge, but unlike Adele’s lyrical lament, I did more than just try – I succeeded, and you can too! 

Hello, it’s me, Jenn Pedersen. I serve as the executive director here at the Center for Teaching and Learning and eCampus and in case you were wondering, I was once an online student. I pursued my advanced degrees online while juggling motherhood, frequent PCS (permanent change of station) moves, and being the proud wife of an Air Force Officer sharing in various commands throughout the US and abroad. I thought I’d share a few insights from personal experiences that I hope will inspire and motivate you in your educational pursuits. 

Embrace Your Unique Path

First, let’s acknowledge something important: your path is uniquely yours. Speaking from experience, I understand the blend of excitement and challenge that comes with balancing life, work, and education. Though this blend is a common thread among us, it never looks exactly the same. In fact, it may not even look the same for you from semester to semester! One particularly hard semester for me saw my husband deployed, all three of my kids in club sports (practices five evenings a week between them and games/performances throughout the weekends), teaching classes, and chapter three of my thesis looming due. Even now, I’m not sure how I made it through! I probably made it look easy to someone on the outside looking in, when I can tell you I was barely hanging on. So my advice: never judge your journey by what you perceive to be someone else’s destination – you don’t know what they’ve gone through to get there or if they’ve even arrived. Focus on your goal and keep moving forward, one step at a time. 

A photo of Jenn and her family before her husband was deployed
A photo of Jenn and her family just before her husband was deployed (L-R: Kaleigh, Nick, Nick, Natassja, Jenn)

Find Your Balance

Balancing various responsibilities can be challenging. Through my years of teaching and mentoring students, I’ve seen the power of a well-structured routine. The basics: allocate specific times for studying, a dedicated space can be helpful, and don’t forget to take breaks. It can sometimes help to find someone to keep you accountable. This might be one of your peers, a close friend or loved one, or if you’re like me, your ‘best boy.’ Throughout my time pursuing my degrees, my dogs helped keep me accountable – early mornings in the heat of the summer, and later in the evening during the rest of the year. My malamutes tend to get destructive if they aren’t adequately exercised, and scheduling my study time just after their runs was an easy way to ensure that I hit the books every day. Don’t forget, your mental health is essential to your academic success.

Connect with Your Community

Contrary to what some may think, online learning isn’t a solitary pursuit. Engage with your classmates, form study groups, fully participate in group projects, and above all: reach out early and often to your instructors! They are your allies in success! One of the most rewarding aspects of my educational journey was the sense of community I developed, which frequently started through interactions with my instructors. By reaching out to them, I was able to connect with classmates on the same career path. Many of these classmates quickly became study partners, friends, and are now lifelong colleagues and professional collaborators. Connections aren’t just supportive in the moment, they are invaluable for a lifetime.

Stay Curious and Think Critically

Learning is powered by curiosity. Don’t just be a passive participant in your courses, actively engage in them! Challenge yourself to ask difficult questions that may not have straightforward answers. Recognize and explore the diverse viewpoints and sometimes contrasting theories that exist in most fields. With each assignment, engage in critical thinking: carefully examine the information presented, evaluate its reliability, and thoughtfully integrate it into your own knowledge base. By making connections to real-world situations your learning becomes more than just an academic exercise: it becomes a transformative experience. When you stay curious and think critically, you not only enhance your learning, you gain critical skills necessary for navigating today’s ever-changing world. 

Leverage Technology to Your Advantage

Online learning is not just about convenience; it’s about leveraging technology to enhance your learning experience. Familiarize yourself with digital tools and resources available. Do you know where to find help if you need it? UAF Nanook Technology Services has a list of Resources for Students that include a technology toolkit, learning resources, and links to help you manage your online presence at UAF. 

Seek Help When You Need It

As someone who has navigated the challenges of being an online student with multiple competing responsibilities, I can’t stress enough the importance of seeking support when you need it. Whether it’s academic help, advising, tutoring, counseling, or career advice, use the resources available to you. You are not alone in this journey.

Celebrate Every Achievement

Every achievement, be it acing a quiz or just barely passing it, is a significant stride forward. I’ll share one final personal example, one that was a hard but important lesson for me to learn. Early in my academic career, I struggled to separate my self-worth from the grades I received. My identity was intertwined with my academic performance: every point gained or lost felt like a direct reflection on my value as a human being. Achieving anything less than perfect scores in all my classes felt like a personal failure. A score of 99/100 would send me into despair; the lower the score, the deeper I sank. I never considered external factors, only blamed myself as though they were personal shortcomings. It took me years to realize that I was so much more than a number on a piece of paper and my worth as a person wasn’t defined by a letter grade. I eventually realized that the true essence of education lies in the learning process, not in the gradebook – especially when facing life’s challenges. So as I am nearing the end of this blog post, let me remind you that while ‘juggling it all’ can seem overwhelming at times, it is doable! Celebrate every achievement, no matter how small or how hard won – even when it doesn’t look quite like you thought it would when you started. These are not just accomplishments; they’re tangible reminders of your capability and resilience. You’ve got this! 

You’re Part of Something Bigger

As an eCampus student at UAF, you’re part of a vibrant and diverse academic community. You’re contributing to a culture of learning that values every student’s experiences and perspectives. Your success is our success and we’re glad you are here.

Jenn's hooding ceremony
Jenn’s hooding ceremony which is unique recognition of her achievement when she earned her PhD. May 10, 2010.


  • Jenn Pedersen

    Executive Director
    Jenn is an Educational Psychologist who is committed to redesigning learning experiences to give all students the opportunity to achieve their dreams. She comes to UAF with experience teaching at the graduate and undergraduate level, mentoring thesis and doctoral students, consulting, and serving in administrative roles at a wide spectrum of institutions. That experience informs her approach to designing and developing courses that engage, challenge, and appeal to diverse learners. Jenn has created a wide range of faculty (and administrator) development opportunities on accessibility, program curriculum development, instructional and learning design and delivery, experiential learning, differentiated instruction, and effective online teaching practices. She loves tackling new course design challenges and helping faculty find ways to make their subjects compelling and accessible to Alaskan students.

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