Despite facing a big hurdle their sophomore year, Rebecca Wolfe and Ashlyn Hemmer say it is definitely their strong friendship that helped them graduate together from Ashford University* in 2018. Their excitement around seeing each other in person for the first time since last July was visible as we sat down the day before graduation to talk to them about their emotional journey together the past four years.
They met in 2014 when they were freshmen at Ashford University’s campus in Clinton, Iowa. They were neighbors living on the same floor in an old hotel off-campus called the “BW.” Rebecca had moved there from Fort Madison, Iowa, only a couple of hours away. “I wanted to be close to home, but far enough to feel independent,” Rebecca said. Ashlyn moved from Durand, a small town in northern Illinois with a population of about 1,500. Having graduated with a class of just 44 high school students, it was a big deal for Ashlyn to leave her close-knit hometown and become a first-generation college student.
Rebecca and Ashlyn were both away from the comforts of home and their supportive families for the first time, in a new city, and on their own. But as soon as they met, they knew they were going to be fast friends. Both being down-to-earth and kind-hearted, they clicked immediately. In the coming years, the support they provided each other proved invaluable. It was one of many meaningful #AshfordConnections in-the-making in Iowa that year.
Ashlyn was majoring in Accounting with minors** in Finance and Business Economics and Rebecca was majoring in Business Administration with a minor** in Human Resources Management and a specialization** in marketing. They had a heavy load, but their friendship always came to the rescue. Whether it was late-night cramming for exams or texting each other about homework, they were always there for each other. Being neighbors also helped!
After they completed their freshman year, they looked forward to their sophomore year together on the Clinton campus, so they were shocked to learn of the University’s decision to close the residential campus. That’s when Rebecca, age 19 at the time, and 20-year-old Ashlyn were faced with an unexpected life decision. They had to decide if they were going to transfer to a different college or finish their classes online.
It was a big decision to make, so naturally they confided in each other. They attended information meetings, they went to a college fair, they read packets from other universities, and they bounced ideas back and forth. They didn’t want to go anywhere else! They both announced they were going to finish their degree programs online.
“When she did that, I was so excited!” Rebecca said. “We’re going to finish it out together, and it will be great. I don’t know if we would have still remained in contact if we both went to another university. It’s kind of scary to think if we would have chosen a different option. Ashlyn is my best friend and has been here with me every step of the way. I don’t know if I would have completed without her.”
Ashlyn and Rebecca said they did a lot of research to determine the best choice for each of their situations. They had experienced campus life and welcomed the change to an online curriculum, where they had the flexibility to work while still attending school. Rebecca said, “It’s flexible. It fits with my schedule. I’m able to seek out other opportunities that maybe I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do otherwise.”
It was a plus that they switched to Ashford’s online format at the same time. “But our bond grew even closer by being online and separated in distance. We had to rely on each other in order to be successful,” Rebecca said.
They also both discovered that learning online requires a different approach than learning in a traditional classroom. They gained a lot of organizational and time management skills, and they learned how to better meet deadlines while taking the five-week courses. Being able to make the transition together and share information was invaluable.
Rebecca said of the transition, “Online, it was very accelerated compared to on-campus because you have a lot more time on campus to learn all the material, where you have less online, but it definitely taught me how to manage my time better. It taught me how to be more independent, a self-starter, and these are all skills that I use in my professional and personal life today.”
Ashlyn said the transition was a bit rough for her because of the shorter class sessions and having to work and manage her time. In addition to her boyfriend and her family, “Becca,” as she calls her BFF, was her constant support system. “When I would have a tough time, I would talk to Becca, and she would say, ‘You know, you just got to get it done. What are you going to do?’”
“I had to buckle down and actually get my work done,” Ashlyn admitted. “I had to buckle down and I did it.” It surprised Ashlyn when her GPA actually increased after switching to the Ashford online format. Ashlyn also mentioned that one of the things that she liked about the transition is that the online classroom challenges you to make yourself better. “The professors make you work for your grade, that's for sure!” she said.
Ashlyn and Rebecca agreed that the Ashford University student portal was a great way to connect with others and expand their resources. After about a year of taking classes online from Clinton, Iowa, Rebecca moved to Alabama, which was about 16 hours away from Ashlyn, who had moved back to her hometown of Durand, Illinois. They would stay in touch via Skype, text, or Snapchat and they would call each other as well.
“I found support also through the discussion forums,” Rebecca said. “Being able to rely on my peers to answer some of my questions that maybe I wasn’t understanding from the reading and things like that. They were able to clear up those concerns.” One feature they both liked was being able to message other students directly or message professors, which came in handy. “That messaging aspect is really nice because it gives a more personal feel to the school, and it kind of makes you feel closer to the people in class.”
Rebecca and Ashlyn said they couldn’t wait to graduate together and walk across the stage hand-in-hand. “It’s going to be an out-of-body experience tomorrow walking across the stage. It really is. I feel like I’m going to completely zone out and be like, this is real. This is happening. We are going to be alumni!” Rebecca said.
In the future, Ashlyn hopes to find a job in personal financial management, or maybe auditing. Rebecca hopes to get an entry level position in a human resource department and then work her way up through the company. “I now have a job as a student account specialist for another university, and I would have never had those opportunities had I gone to another university. I’m also thinking about doing my master’s online, so it’s really opened some doors for me. I was even able to finish a 6-month-long externship that I otherwise would have had to take time off of school in a traditional setting. Ashford online allowed me the opportunity to get real-world experience under my belt that specifically related to my degree.”
Rebecca’s advice for other students taking online classes: “If there is another student that lives in the area, make the connection. Send them a message through the portal. Ask them if they want to get together and discuss the experience.” Ashlyn’s advice to other students: “If you’re struggling in class, don’t be afraid to reach out to another student and ask for advice as far as how they are grasping the material and if they could give techniques to help you to learn the material. They are an asset in your journey.”
Ashlyn and Rebecca are glad they made the connection. They plan to remain lifelong friends.
Written by University Staff
*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus
**This program is no longer accepting new enrollments. Please see the catalog for the current available degree programs. Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.