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Profile: Distance Learning Grad is a UC Pioneer

Annette Gamble is among the first group of students to graduate from a distance learning program launched by UC in 2000.

Date: 6/9/2003 8:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Larry Gamble
UC ingot Annette Gamble is one of the University of Cincinnati’s newest pioneers. This mother of 10 children -- four grown and six of them young adopted foster children -- is among the first group of students to graduate from a distance learning program that UC first launched back in 2000. She will graduate with honors and will receive her associate’s degree in early childhood education.

Annette Gamble

The Early Childhood Learning Community (ECLC), a national distance learning network founded by University College, the College of Education, and the non-profit distance learning company, RISE Learning Solutions, was created to address the needs of staff in Head Start centers that were required to get a college degree under a federal mandate.

The 1998 Head Start Authorization Act meant 50 percent of the staff in Head Start centers needed to earn an associate’s degree in early childhood education by 2003. That was going to be a challenge for many of these workers. The majority of them were working moms who did not have the flexibility in their daily schedules to drive to a college classroom. Furthermore, many of them lived in towns where the closest college campus was an hour or more away.

So instead of driving to college, the ECLC brought college to the students. The “classroom” lectures come in VHS, CD-Rom, CVD’s (CDs that can be played in the newer DVD players) and streaming video, as well as discussions and course work on their home computers.

The program was launched with just eight students who registered for classes in spring 2000. Eleven are members of this year’s first graduating class. Lisa Holstrom, director of the ECLC, says this spring, 275 students were taking a total of 475 available classes. The program is now open to students around the world. “We’re sending boxes of CDs to childcare providers on military installations around the world,” remarks Holstrom. “Especially in these times, they need the flexibility and portability of distance education.”

Annette Gamble of Kimbolton, Ohio, is a teacher’s aide at the Coshocton County Head Start and has worked there for five years. She was one of the staff workers who needed to earn an associate’s degree and had two primary concerns about how to do it. First, at age 37, she hadn’t been a student for years and secondly, this working mom was worried about fitting class time into her schedule. She started out trying to take the courses offered by a technical college. “I told my teacher that I really didn’t see how I was going to do this. I had children and I just couldn’t keep driving an hour back and forth to school. That’s when she told me about the distance learning program at the University of Cincinnati.”

Annette says she was a little nervous about her computer classes when she first started out, but once she gained her confidence, she saw some new advantages. “I could go to college at 3 or 4 in the morning, or I could do my classroom work for 10 or 15 minutes, go and take care of my children and then come back.”

Annette says the computer discussion board was a key confidence builder for distance learners. “When I first started out, I just didn’t think I could do this, and my preparatory (English) professor, Stuart Blersch, just kept saying, ‘You can do this.’ He just encouraged me the whole way and if it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know if I would have made it. We had to read all of these books! Then, I got an A in the first class.”

“I was apprehensive about teaching my first online class,” says Blersch, “but the students, especially Annette, made it a rewarding experience for me. Annette’s computer quickly became a tool for communication that was not only effective, but also warm and engaging. I definitely knew there was a real person at her end of the line! She was a joy to work with, and I’m proud to have helped such a bright and generous woman to earn her degree.”

Annette’s dedication to Head Start began after her children were grown and she and her husband Larry became foster parents. That was seven years ago. Since then, they’ve adopted Lumnia, age 7; Ariel, age 8; Jimmy, age 9; Ryan, age 10; Toby, age 12; and Brock, age 13. They’ve taken in more than 51 foster children and still dedicate their weekends to foster parenting children with special needs. Annette and Larry have four grown sons: Steve, Scott, Tim and Paul, and seven grandchildren.

Needless to say, Annette had to prioritize her time if she wanted to earn that degree, and she found the distance learning program was flexible to her needs. “I work until 1:30 p.m., and when I’d get home, I’d find that Larry would have turned on the computer to the college Web site and would have left a nice little snack. I was taking four classes, but I could kick off my shoes and get comfortable.”

Annette says her success is a celebration for the entire family, including her parents, and they all plan to come to the All-University Commencement on June 13. The reception for University College students, where the ECLC associate degree program is based, will be held at 4 p.m. in the Event Pavilion, and a special reception for the ECLC graduates will take place from 6-8 p.m. at Union Institute and University at 440 E. McMillan St.

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