The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday January 28th

Friday Center Gives Degree Options

Not only did exam week mark the completion of a four-month semester, it also signified the end of a nearly 10-year prison sentence.

During 2000, Doe, now 33, participated in the Correctional Education Program, which allows minimum-security inmates to enroll as full-time students on UNC's campus through the Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough.

The Correctional Education Program is one of several opportunities available to unconventional students with unusual circumstances and schedules, said June Blackwelder, the associate director of publications at the Friday Continuing Education Center.

Other options include Continuing Studies, a program designed for participants who seek to enroll on a part-time basis. Applicants must first be admitted to the University before selecting from night or day courses held on campus.

UNC also offers Carolina Courses Online, a program that replaces a formal class setting with discussion forums and student communication via e-mail. Nearly 40 online courses featuring weekly readings and assignments are offered each semester.

Students seeking a less structured format can enroll in a self-paced online correspondence study that must be completed in nine months to a year.

Blackwelder said different types of courses -- offered anywhere from a prison to a student's own home -- cater to a variety of people, including older residents who want to enhance their education, full-time students trying to graduate on time and students with medical limitations.

Correctional Education

For Doe, who was convicted of aiding and abetting second-degree murder, the Correctional Education Program allowed him to continue his pursuit of a University degree. He had completed two years as a chemistry and physics major at N.C. State University prior to his arrest in the summer of 1988.

Doe, who started the Correctional Education Program in the spring of 2000, chose to immerse himself in his coursework, obtaining standing permission to study in the correctional center's educational trailer well after the 10 p.m. lockdown.

He said he would work until exhausted to spend as little time in his cell as possible. "I'm sure people at the (prison) had no idea who I was, and since I was able to wear street clothes all the time, I'm sure half of them didn't even know I lived there," he said.

Since his release from prison a year ago, Doe has been taking classes at UNC and plans to graduate in May. But Doe said people, both at UNC and in the prison system, were willing to help him with problems that resulted from his unique situation. Doe said state restrictions, specifically one mandate that prohibits inmates from using computers connected to the Internet, sometimes makes it difficult to complete assignments. "I'm a computer science major," he said. "It's kind of necessary for me to actually use computers."

But Doe said he contacted both his professor and the head of UNC's Department of Computer Science, who loaned him a copy of the necessary software to download onto prison computers.

Doe, who has made the dean's list for the past two semesters, said the support of UNC faculty and employees at the correctional center contributed to his success at the University.

While Doe said he realizes that potential employers might not be able to overlook his criminal record, he hopes they will look at his academic achievements and personality. "Somehow I don't seem to fit the stereotype," he said. "Go figure."

Online and Correspondence Courses

A typical phone conversation between senior Alison Lafferty and correspondence course student Anne Propst might sound typical of any mother-daughter discussion -- until the two start comparing notes on their bioethics course.

The mother-daughter pair is taking the course through the Friday Center. Lafferty is enrolled in the online section, and Propst is completing the course through correspondence, an option where students do work by mail and have one deadline to complete all coursework.

Propst, 49, is the director of medical staff services at Concord's NorthEast Medical Center. Propst said she chose the subject because of its direct correlation to her work. She chose the correspondence method because of its flexibility in schedule -- the classes are, for her, a way to gain expertise but not necessarily a degree.

While Propst works on her assignments during her lunch hour or on weekends, Lafferty waits until her shifts at UNC News Services and Victory Village Day Care are over to complete assignments at home. Unlike her mother, Lafferty must complete weekly online quizzes, a timed midterm and final that she e-mails to her professor.

Lafferty, a psychology major who hopes to pursue a nursing degree, said her grades have benefitted from this course and another course, Drama 16, that she also took online.

"I feel like I get a lot out of these classes because I actually do the readings, which isn't always the case with regular classes," she said. "There are no class notes to just regurgitate."

Continuing Education

For 55-year-old Marion Toler, Continuing Studies allowed her to test the waters of University life after more than 30 years away from a school setting. In 1995, Toler decided to supplement her daily work schedule with night courses at UNC. The University's Continuing Studies offers both day and night classes for students with other commitments or concerns.

Toler said her decision was influenced heavily by her the wishes of her parents, who dropped out of school before the fifth grade. She said college was not an option when she was growing up. "I want to know what the rest of you know -- I'm really curious as to what I'm missing," she said. Toler said she benefitted greatly from the adult environment of night classes and the support of professors close to her own age. As time progressed, she began to realize her own academic capabilities.

"Even before the completion of two semesters, I realized that I was really smart," she said. "I was almost shocked at how smart I was. I realized that I could aim for an A in class."

As she adjusted to the routine of school, Toler began to enroll in day classes. Unfortunately, her first experience was less than positive. After walking into her first class -- filled with more than 200 students -- Toler said she felt overwhelmed and vowed to never take another course with more than 40 students.

Despite setbacks, Toler plans to enroll as a full-time student this spring to complete her geography and political science double major. The switch will allow her to earn her degree at a much faster rate so she can fulfill her dream of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. "I want to graduate before I'm 60 years old," Toler said. "I have goals, you know."

Serving Students' Unique Needs

Not many programs can benefit an ex-convict, a working mother-and-daughter duo and a 55-year-old future Peace Corps volunteer.

But officials say the Friday Center has demonstrated its ability to meet the needs of these unconventional students as well as those of numerous others.

Assistant Provost Linda Carl said that these -- and other -- nontraditional methods do not represent the entire UNC experience but can serve as excellent options under certain circumstances.

"Part of the richness of being on campus is the multitude of resources through speakers, social life and organizations," she said. "But some people don't need those things in the same way. Sometimes work and family exclude them from some of these opportunities."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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