I’m a Distance Learning Student and I Love Marshall University. Here’s Why

David Voigt, Opinion Contributor

For some, school is perceived as an obligatory rite of passage to becoming an adult. For others, college is a social environment that accompanies the necessary evil of coursework and lectures.

And still, for others, college is a means to creating a better life, regardless of how and where it is pursued. The university experience is vastly different for each individual, likely driven by the motives for pursuing higher education in the first place.

I love Marshall University. It’s the place I was invited to reimagine what life can be, especially when it pertains to vocation and career ambitions.

My first year at Marshall University began in May of 2020 – a year filled with COVID-19 lockdowns, riots in the streets of cities across America and political unrest. It was a bizarre and somewhat confusing time in life to return to school, but as is often said, we’re not getting any younger. Waiting simply wasn’t an option.

For anyone who has been through graduate school, you know the level of commitment required, especially as it relates to time, resources and overall mental wellbeing…

This is part of the “why” behind my love for Marshall University. When any student finds a program where they feel a sense of belonging, it makes the learning experience far more enjoyable. Marshall made me feel like a place where I belonged from the very beginning.

All this love and affection towards Marshall likely resonates with many current students and alumni. Yet, one caveat to my story may be different than most; I never stepped onto the campus until after two full years. The past few years have been spent on my own private satellite campus in North Carolina where I have been pursuing a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. To me, Marshall University is more than a place; it’s a family encompassing numerous geographies beyond Huntington. When someone commits time, money and energy into any endeavor, whether education or something else, the heart follows (or it darn well should). That has been the case with my experience at Marshall University.

In 2020, at the age of 37, I was a new father who also worked full-time in a corporate job. Being an on-campus student was not appealing to me whatsoever at this stage of my life, especially when there were more feasible options thanks to technology. Despite the continued popularity of attending university on-campus among late adolescents and young adults, the format and flexibility of education is more fluid than ever before, paving a way for students like myself to reimagine vocational aspirations.

Distance learning programs have become more and more prevalent in the U.S. over the past few decades, offering students another format in which they can pursue a degree in a setting that meets their needs. Thankfully, Marshall University was one such institution that joined the movement, offering numerous degrees in the online learning forum.

According to an article on the Center for Online Education’s website, “Eventually, one-third of college students expect to study online, one-third expect to study only on campus, and one-third will do both, according to a survey by Learninghouse and Aslanian Market Research.”

Marshall University is more than brick and mortar. It’s people, ideas and a place of belonging.

This last Thanksgiving week, my father and I decided to make a road trip from Charlotte to Huntington to visit the campus for the first time, as well as to see the football team play Georgia State. Making the trip was not only enjoyable because of the shared memory with my father, but it also helped me connect with Marshall in a more tangible, meaningful way. After being a student virtually for over two years, this was my first time stepping on campus. Call me sentimental, but it meant more to me than I can put into words, especially because of how much work that had already been invested.

To me, Marshall is not just a school. Marshall is a symbol of new-ness and second chances. It’s my personal canvas where I can sketch and imagine a future of new possibilities.

When I joined Marshall, I had grown deeply discontent in my job in corporate America, frustrated with lacking a sense of meaning and value in my work. My heart was simply not in corporate America, but it was rooted in a love for helping those who were hurting and broken – a group to which I myself once belonged. Change is only possible when we choose to move. Marshall was that move I needed to jump start the next chapter of my life from merely working to make a living to thriving by helping others find healing.

So, why did a guy from Charlotte, North Carolina pick Marshall University? 

Growing up, I followed Appalachian State football religiously thanks to my father being an alum. Two regular rivals in the 1990s that I always looked forward to App State playing were Georgia Southern and Marshall. Many years later as I was searching for accredited programs, Marshall came to mind thanks to my familiarity because of, well football. I’m judging myself for even saying it, but it’s how I knew Marshall. I own it.

Dr. Jonathan Lent, program director of the counseling program at Marshall University, was one of the most pivotal pieces in my decision to apply to the program. He was not only prompt in responding when I reached out to inquire about the degree program, but he was also extremely welcoming and kind during our interactions. There are few people who have the gift of making others feel seen and heard. Dr. Lent is one of those people. Sometimes a first impression is all you need to confirm a decision on where you will sacrifice your money and your time. Dr. Lent was the first impression that made me feel like Marshall was a place I belonged to and could thrive in. 

So many professors have made my experience incredibly meaningful the past two years. The amount of support they have provided, even though I am simply a distance learning student, has been an outstanding reflection of Marshall University and the value it places on its students. There has never been a time where I did not feel as if the professors treated me as inferior due to my proximity to the campus. Rather, they have always been readily available to help in any way possible.

So, why does a distance learning student like myself love Marshall? It’s quite simple, really. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity Marshall has given me to reimagine what life can be beyond what it has already been. Second chances. New dreams. A place of belonging.

After all, we are…Marshall.