Earning UNI degrees from afar: Online programs empower placebound students

Earning UNI degrees from afar: Online programs empower placebound students

Anna Flanders /

Three students in Sioux City are experiencing the quality of a UNI education without leaving their hometowns. 

“With online learning, I don't have to worry about moving to Cedar Falls and finding a place to live,” said Kennedy Hueser, who is going through UNI’s online transfer (formerly 2+2) elementary education program after earning her associate degree at Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC). “I have a job here. So it was really nice that I was able to keep some of the roots that I put down here.”

As a 2020 high school graduate, Kennedy discovered she enjoyed online learning while earning her associate degree. She appreciated the flexibility it provided her. 

Western Iowa Tech Community College is part of the UNI@IACC (UNI at Iowa Community Colleges) partnership. Through this innovative collaboration, students with an associate degree are able to complete an online bachelor’s degree without attending classes in Cedar Falls. There are currently 12 online programs in high-demand areas available. UNI is strategic in making programs more accessible for others across the state.

Christina Brandon, Kennedy Hueser, and Amy Hueser

One way UNI is able to maintain a highly-individualized experience for UNI@IACC students is through student success specialists – UNI staff who are based at Iowa community colleges to help students navigate their education. Susan Grau, advisor and student success specialist for the UNI at WITCC partnership, was instrumental in encouraging Hueser to enroll in the online transfer program.

“Susan was very good at helping me,” said Hueser. “She was always willing to work with me. She would even text me outside of the normal work hours, and just check up and make sure that I was doing okay. She was very persistent in saying that UNI would be a good fit for me. So I'm very thankful that I listened to her.”

Kennedy takes after her mom, Amy Hueser, a proud UNI alum who earned her master’s degree in Spanish online in 1994. 

“It was cutting-edge because there was almost virtually nowhere you could go and earn a master's degree online, with summers out there,” she said. “So even back then, UNI was pretty cutting-edge, really working toward making things accessible to other parts of the state.”

Now, Amy is going through UNI’s Doctor of Education in Postsecondary Education: Student Affairs while working in faculty development and assessment at WITCC.

“I had such a good experience with UNI that, through the years, I've been a promoter and supporter of UNI. So it was very natural for me to look at the possibilities of furthering my education,” she said. “When I met with Dr. David Schmid — ‘Schmiddy’ is what we call him — he was very reassuring that I could do this after being out of the learning environment for 30 years. The process of getting enrolled and beginning the program, helped me see that we make it work from a distance with family, with work obligations and so forth was very reassuring. That was a natural fit for me.”

 “I had such a good experience with UNI that, through the years, I've been a promoter and supporter of UNI," said Amy Hueser.

Although the classes are done over Zoom, Amy still feels a connection with members of her cohort.

“We're all working professionals,” she said. “We all have similar goals. So we want to support each other. It doesn't feel like a competition. It feels very supportive, and I think that's enabled from the encouragement and involvement of the professors as well. Our individual groups are amazing. We really do support each other daily in class activities, outside of class activities, our personal lives, so it has made for a very supportive environment.”

The Hueser women are on track to graduate from their respective programs together in spring 2025.

Amy isn’t alone at WITCC in furthering her education through UNI. Christina Brandon, dean of outreach and information technology, is also in her EdD cohort. She knew enrolling at UNI was the best next step for her career path.

“One day, I decided that I needed different options and that I was ready to learn new content,” said Brandon. “I hadn't worked with students for a long time, and I wanted to learn about  new information. So I decided to figure out what I could do to kind of accelerate my role with students. I was interested in this program mainly because the focus of it was the students and learning what you can do for them and their experiences.”

Brandon said that she had no desire to add a degree to her resume simply for the sake of adding another degree. She wanted to find a program with true purpose. Her positive experiences with UNI’s EdD program have continuously affirmed she made the right choice.

“Sometimes something will happen at work, and I'll come to class and that'll be the topic of what we're discussing,” said Brandon. “It’s a perfect match and a perfect fit.”