Five women started their FAMU post-baccalaureate courses together in January 1999. Every second and fourth Saturday for three years they attended their class lecture. They saw each other and listened to each other’s questions. And every class meeting, they were 500 miles apart.Through live video-conferencing and online course work, the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences had five distance learning students earn their doctorate of pharmacy without stepping a foot into the Dyson Pharmacy Building. The winter graduates, all alumnae of FAMU, wanted to go further in their field but had full-time jobs and full-time schedules. and according to Michael Thompson, assistant dean of clinical affairs for the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, that is exactly why the distance-learning program was designed.Thompson oversees the executive doctor of pharmacy distance learning program.”The program got started because there was a need for pharmacists with their bachelors of pharmacy to receive their doctorate,” Thompson said. “We designed the program so the working pharmacists would not have to leave home [towns] but get their degree from the smart classrooms.” The “smart classrooms” are the university’s interactive distance learning classroom that is capable of delivering and receiving live broadcasts between colleges and universities and other corporations. FAMU has classrooms in Coleman Library, Tampa and Miami.Karen A. Boyd and Martha Johnson-Rutledge, who graduated with their bachelor degrees in 1982 and 1993, both lived and worked in Miami and were ecstatic to discover the university was offering external doctoral courses. Nova Southeastern University and the University of Florida offered distance programs for pharmacy, but these women wanted their alma mater.Their schedules needed FAMU’s part-time, external program schedule:Boyd was working 75 to 80 hours as a Walgreen’s staff pharmacist.Johnson-Rutledge, also had a full-time job, whose life stayed firmly pressed on the accelerator.
During the three-year program, Johnson-Rutledge managed to wed, purchase a home, and become a mother of a baby boy. She said her husband’s dishwashing helped.
“I could have never done that as a full-time student,” she said. Before Ellington [Johnson-Rutledge’s son] was born I was on bed rest for a month. I had the classes I missed mailed to me.”
Every class lecture was available on videotape for students. Students could view the tapes if absent or if they needed clarification on subject material. Each site offered a facilitator for class meetings to assist with video equipment, proctoring tests and passing our information.
Nina Leah Watson, class of 1987, worked full time as a prison pharmacist in Jesup, Ga. Her commute from Jacksonville was 1 hour and 45 minutes one-way.
When asked what was it like to take a course where half your classmates and professor are viewed through a TV monitor, they said that in some ways it was no different.
“I found that we were able to communicate with the students and professor,” Johnson-Rutledge explained. “All we had to do was push the pad in front of us and the camera would zoom in on you if you had a question. If you had a confused facial expression, the professor saw it.”
According to the assistant director of telecommunications and distance learning for the college of pharmacy, Telisa Jones, every site is equipped with two television monitors. One monitor receives video of the instructor and the second sends information to the primary site. Students at remote sites can ask questions by speaking into the push-to-talk microphones.
“We were not isolated at any time.” Johnson-Rutledge said. “We felt like we were right there…all the while I was still in Miami.”
Distance learning students also use Blackboard, an instructional software Web site, to receive assignments and tests given by a Professor Watson, who said time was her No. 1 challenge in school, got through the program by listening to audit tapes on her way home to and from work.
“I would take a tape recorder and record myself reading a chapter. Then on my 95-mile drive to work I would play the tape,” Watson said. She also commuted to Tallahassee for the distance learning classes.
Rita Lewis Brown, who graduated with her bachelors degree in 1977, was able to overcome the transition of going back to school after more than 20 years.
“The first year I was very insecure, saying this is a mistake,” Brown shared. “But once I start something I do not stop.”
Brown said the changing role of the pharmacist prompted her to pursue more education and training in her field.
“When I was in school, the pharmacists didn’t get involved in the clinical setting. Now pharmacists do more than count pills, but can give information to the patients and educate them about the drugs they are taking,” Brown said.
The fifth graduate and the youngest of the five, Tara Benjamin Henry, entered the ExDoc program just months after earning her bachelor’s at FAMU.
Because Henry’s siblings were concurrently in college with her, Henry’s parents could only pay for a four-year degree. She decided before her graduation in 1998 to pursue a doctorate of pharmacy.
“It feels good to be done – no more Saturdays.” Henry said.
The graduates of the ExDoc distance-learning program met for the first time at last month’s graduation rehearsal.
“It was a special moment. We talked about our experiences, we talked about opportunities for the future,” Brown said. We were the first class to graduate.”
For more information about FAMU’s distance learning courses and programs visit: www.it.famu.edu