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Journey to the Finish

The emergence of virtual education at St. Norbert gave Carolyn Uhl, director for the office of institutional effectiveness, an idea: What if we could reach out to students a few credits shy of completing their degrees, and offer them the chance to take that final course? She brought the idea to Jenn Bonds-Raacke, provost and vice president for academic affairs, who helped assemble a team that included Lauren Gaecke (Registrar) and Jill Dougherty (Academic Affairs) to find and help enroll eligible students.

The project embodies the St. Norbert spirit, says Bonds-Raacke: “I love that the idea came from my team. We have been working so hard to be innovative and think about how we can live out our mission. If we are Norbertine and Catholic, how can we help our community more than our colleagues at some other institution. I love that mission-aligned innovation.”

Four students took classes online over the 2021 summer term. (Classes over the summer and J-terms are offered at a discounted rate.) Two took a theology course on the New Testament taught by Kathleen Elkins, and two took a seminar course on Norbertine, Catholic and liberal arts traditions taught by Bonds-Raacke. One student was able to gain their degree through approval of an already completed substitute course.

The classes served as a tying of the bow on the students’ St. Norbert education. Scott Eastman ’96, a student in Bonds-Raacke’s course, says in his final project: “I can’t tell you how much I value, or how much value I’ve taken, from this opportunity and challenge to pause my life just for a moment and reflect on how my experience at St. Norbert College has impacted my life.” He adds, “My life is better because of this experience.”

Eastman’s experience was unique, but his fellow graduates relayed a similar sentiment. And the team at St. Norbert is energized to grow the program.

“It had a stronger impact than I had anticipated,” Uhl says. “[I] Feel good about coming up with ideas. Feel closer to the mission … it was really cool to see people finish their degrees.” Gaecke says the plan is to enroll a few more students in the upcoming J-term and keep the door open for students to return to their studies.

“This opens up the door for what other students can do to complete their degree. … The college has changed in the last 15-20 years. What couldn’t students do back then that they can do now. What can we do to think creatively that helps them now?” says Bonds-Raacke.

Nov. 5, 2021