Army Specialist Serving in Iraq Taking Southeast Online Summer Courses

Photo of  U.S. Army Specialist Neil Guinn of Columbia, Mo.

There will be no “lazy days of summer” for U.S. Army Specialist Neil Guinn of Columbia, Mo.

When he’s not locating and maintaining repair parts for Blackhawk helicopters on an airbase north of Baghdad this summer, he’ll be working on two online courses at Southeast Missouri State University. 

“This deployment is putting me a little behind in school, so I want to come back to the states with as many credits as possible to continue towards graduation,” said Guinn, who is trying his hand at online courses for the first time. “My goal is to be a junior by the time I get home.”

Guinn, of Columbia, Mo., is a 2001 graduate of Columbia Hickman High School, who is pursuing a bachelor of science in secondary education degree with a major in social studies at Southeast. He is serving in Iraq with an aviation unit, working in tech supply and maintaining helicopters. He was a sophomore at Southeast and completed the fall 2003 semester before he was deployed overseas.

Southeast is currently getting the word out to military service personnel that college enrollment opportunities are available to them via online courses while they are serving abroad. Debbie Below, director of admissions and enrollment management, said the University has set up streamlined enrollment procedures for military interested in taking summer 2004 online courses.

Members of the military interested in this opportunity are asked to contact the Office of Admissions at Southeast Missouri State University at admissions@semo.edu or by calling (573) 651-2590. Below says Admissions representatives can direct them to a Web page which has been established for military personnel interested in taking online courses.

Last week, Guinn began BS108 “Biology for Living,” taught by Dr. David Starrett, associate professor of biology and director of the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning at Southeast. In fact, although the four-week course got under way May 17, the first assignment was posted on the Web May 15, and Guinn was one of the most eager students, ready to get started early.

“I have been really anxious to get this started,” Guinn told Starrett in an e-mail message. “It makes me feel like home and normal life are not so far away.”

Later in the summer, during the eight-week session, Guinn will take US 107 “American History II,” taught by Larry Easley, associate professor of history.

Starrett says online courses were envisioned as a means to increase access to higher education for individuals who have impediments – a change in lifestyle or marital status, young children, or a change in jobs – that prevent them from enrolling in traditional coursework.

“His circumstances have changed, and here he (Guinn) is over there wanting to keep going with his education. It’s a wonderful example of why we offer online courses and what the value of them is. I think it’s wonderful that someone in these circumstances is able to do this.” 

This summer, Southeast is offering 149 sections and 126 classes of fully online courses with about 2,770 seats taken in these sessions.

Guinn says he has direct access to the Internet after he and some of his comrades purchased a satellite and internet service, a luxury most soldiers don’t have since their jobs require them to move frequently. Guinn’s position is fixed to a base where he has daily internet access. He says he doesn’t know of anyone else serving overseas who is enrolled in online classes at home.

“This offers people the option to continue classes in circumstances that are not normal and do the work on their time and not be limited by a face-to-face class,” Guinn said.

He says his Southeast instructors have indicated a willingness to assist him while enrolled abroad.

“All of my professors have been good to me,” he said. “They all have told me they would work with me on timelines, considering that my time is nine hours different than in Cape.”

Guinn works nights in Iraq, “so my schedule is similar to a normal day back home,” he said.

He is quick to credit the military for allowing him to pursue a college degree.

“The military is the reason I have been able to continue my education,” he said. “They have paid 100 percent of my tuition so far, and, without that, I would not be able to pay for school. I believe they are all about furthering education.”

Guinn said he has the support of his commanding officers in taking Southeast online summer courses as long as they don’t interfere with his mission. He expects to return home in spring 2005 and eventually plans to complete his bachelor’s degree and then pursue a master’s or law degree.

“This, in a nutshell, is what we want to see happen” with online courses, Starrett concluded. “We have followed him to the four corners of the world. I think it’s great that technology is allowing us to do this. This is really what it’s all about.”