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July 15, 2011

Online student shows dedication to bringing education to rural parishes

Research shows that several qualities contribute to being a successful online student, including strong motivation and a healthy dose of self-discipline.

In fact, many online students will attest that online learning is not easier than the traditional educational process and actually may take more time and commitment.

But for those willing to work hard, the online experience is often just as rewarding.

Alana Sandidge, 34, of Tensas Parish, is one such University of Louisiana at Monroe student.

Not only is she a participant in the Emerging Scholars Program at the university, she took a first place win in the College of Business Administration undergraduate category during the 2011 Student Research Symposium.

Her topic for the symposium, distance education and how it can help in a rural setting, is something for which she is quite passionate.

"Because much of Louisiana is still rural, and because this often means lower incomes, college still often isn't an option for many young people," said Sandidge.

"Online opportunities can certainly address this issue. I see programs such as ULM GOLD (Gateway to Online Degrees) a way for all students, regardless of geographic location or other responsibilities, to pursue their education."

Sandidge returned to school following a 15-year absence, motivated by understanding supervisors where she works at the Tensas Parish School Board as a payroll clerk, and the desire to show her children that hard work and dedication pays off.

Sandidge said she was grateful to discover that being a full-time employee and a mother did not mean she had to sacrifice a great education.

"The professors in online classes participate as much in these online courses as they do in the classroom," she said.

"They are encouraging, supportive, and available. The ULM Gold program makes possible the dreams for anyone who really wants to achieve their goal of completing a degree. I also could not have done this without the support and encouragement of family. "

Sandidge, a business major now on the president's list, said her ultimate goal is to help people in some way and give back to society. Professor of Economics Tammy Parker said that Sandidge's dedication is remarkable.

"If there are online students who have participated in both the Emerging Scholars Program and the Student Research Symposium, it is a rarity," said Parker.

"Alana contacted us about wanting to be more involved and to work with a professor on a research project. Few students take charge of their college career in this way. She truly is an inspiration and model for others to follow."

College of Business Administration Dean Dr. Ron Berry sees the college becoming more involved in rural areas.

One way is to reach out to students such as Sandidge, who work in rural parish school districts.

"When we consider just how many potential students live and work in rural parishes, we realize just how crucial online education is. It provides students access, where before there was none," Berry said.

"And research shows that earning a degree leads to higher wages and increased quality of life."

"Alana is the type of online student that any university would love to have," said Arturo Rodriguez, business instructor at ULM's College of Business Administration.

"She is hard working and not afraid to learn and apply something new everyday. With a full-time job and a family, she is also an inspiration to faculty and students alike. Our area is truly fortunate to have her as a student."

For more about the GOLD program at ULM, visit the GOLD Web site at, call toll free at 1-877-ULM-ONLINE or email

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