Returning to school as an adult can be one of the most challenging and nerve-wracking experiences of your life, especially if it feels like you’re facing that challenge alone. Fortunately, school has always been one of the best places to meet new friends. Even in an online classroom, when colleagues are physically in another state (or country), the shared experience of learning something new together can often lead to unexpected friendships. 

Such is the case for Christina Simonelli and Susan Hoover, Honors Program students who met during while taking HON 280 Society, Power, and Responsibility together. 

“Honestly, I didn’t expect to meet a new friend in the online setting,” Christina says. “But today, in this era, it has become a way of life.” 

Like many students, Christina and Susan are working single parents who are hoping to use their bachelor’s degrees – psychology and applied behavioral science, respectively – to get to the next level in their professional and personal lives. 

At first glance, the two have little in common, other than the minimum 3.75 GPA that’s required for them to join fellow high-achieving students in the Honors Program. Christina lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she is a parent advocate on the state Department of Health’s Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Task Force. Susan lives in Blue Springs, Missouri, where she teaches Sunday school and coaches softball and soccer. Both women are also on opposite sides of the political spectrum. 

Nevertheless, their differences and geographic locations did not deter this friendship from blossoming. Instead, they have forged an unbreakable bond that is helping them to navigate their academic journey and push forward in pursuit of their degrees.

Here, Christina and Susan discuss how they formed their friendship and share four valuable lessons they have learned as a result.

ashford honors students become best online friends

Forming a Friendship Online

The online classroom allows students to become involved in each other’s academic lives through daily discussion board posts, and it’s here that Christina and Susan became fast friends.

“This class allowed everyone to share what they believed in and there was no backlash,” Christina says. “I came across Susan’s introduction, and while our political beliefs are different, what caused me to respond was the type of work that she does.” 

Susan’s academic success had come despite myriad challenges she faced in her personal life. She overcame a learning disability to achieve Honors Program status, but she also has watched her mother struggle through the effects of chemotherapy throughout her entire time in school. 

One night, Christina saw one of Susan’s Facebook posts describing her mother’s fight with cancer, and reached out to offer support. As the two began corresponding, they started what would quickly become the foundation of a lasting friendship.

“She is by far one of the best friends I have ever met, and I am so thankful to have her around,” Susan says. 

Susan entered school in 2016, one year before Christina, so they aren’t going to graduate at the same time. Still, they are making plans to someday meet in person. Until then, they are happy with their current arrangement.

“We both said after we finish our undergraduate degrees that we will make it happen,” Christina says. “However, as of right now, I’m content with video chatting and living in the here and now.”

Lessons in Learning and Friendship

Although Susan and Christina have never met in person, it’s as though they have known each other their entire lives. Here they discuss the secrets of their friendship and four reasons why they believe Ashford* friends make the best friends. 

1. Ashford friends always find time to get things done

Online learning is flexible and mobile, but you have to be self-motivated. Ashford students always look for those small slivers of time during which they can log into the classroom and work on their assignments. For many, this often occurs late at night.  

“We were so different but had one thing in common: we never sleep!” jokes Susan. “I am always awake at night doing homework, and Christina does it at night as well.” 

After putting their children to bed, the two go online to finish their classwork and connect with one another via video chat. Some nights, their conversations will go until 3:30 a.m., Christina says.

2. Ashford friends can tell you how to fix a problem

The online classroom is unique because it brings together students of different backgrounds and levels of experience. This allows you to connect with others who possess knowledge or skill that might come in handy.

For example, Susan needed to create a PowerPoint presentation but did not know how to use the tool. Christina came to her rescue. 

“I could not get it to work right and was so frustrated,” Susan explains. “She stepped in and showed me how to fix it, and I ended up getting an A.” 

3. Ashford friends know when you’ve had a rough day

Christina and Susan always have each other’s backs, even after a long day. Sometimes the arrangement comes with small perks and surprises, like the time Christina sent an unexpected delivery to Susan.

“I ended up ordering her a Frappe through Uber Eats,” Christina recalls, adding that when she struggles with a class, assignment, or life in general, Susan is always there to “save the day.” 

4. Ashford friends know what you’re going through

For many adult learners, success at Ashford comes after many years spent working and/or raising a family. Returning to school can be difficult, especially if you’ve already experienced setbacks at a brick-and-mortar college.

“I just want to prove to everyone who said I was going to be a failure that I am not,” explains Susan, who credits her faith and the online learning format for helping her overcome her learning disability.

Christina had given up on school earlier in her life, considering it a waste of time. That changed when she gave herself a “reality check.” 

“One day I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘What am I doing with my life? I’m going to be 30 years old, and I’ll never make a name for myself without an education,’ she says” 

Online learning was new for both women, but they realized what every student should know. You’re never in this alone

“To feel that you’re finally understood and feel supported is a major factor in your success,” Christina says. 

“We know that even when we are not on the phone with each other, we are together and can find a light in the end.” Susan says. “I wish people knew how much of a community there really is here. You just have to try and make it work. 


Written by University Staff

*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus

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