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Across State Lines and Oceans, Online Student Never Stops Learning

Sustainable Built Environments garden at the UA.

Benjamin White, UA Online student in Sustainable Built Environments, shows how multiple detours need not derail your journey toward an online degree.

Ben WhiteWhen Ben White enrolled at the University of Arizona’s main campus in Tucson, Arizona, his path toward a degree seemed clear. Unforeseen events at work, however, resulted in a change of plans.

“I was deployed to Afghanistan,” White said. “Having a bachelor’s degree has always been a desire of mine … I never knew if I was going to be able to complete it.”

White needed another way to continue his education. He discovered UA Online, the University of Arizona’s digital campus, which now offers 80-plus degree programs 100% online.

“I think the key with online is that it provides that flexibility for people,” White said about transitioning from the classroom to the computer. “It provides that opportunity to go back and forth.”

With an associate degree in law enforcement, a career in military service and existing credits in international studies, White brought a varied skill set to his current coursework in Sustainable Built Environments — a first-of-its-kind online program that gives students an opportunity to, as he put it, “bring sustainability into the construction sector.”

“I grew up on a small, family-run dairy farm,” White said. “So sustainability was always part of that even though we didn’t realize it. How we took care of everything was important.”

Sustainable Built Environments trains the architects, engineers and urban planners of the future. Earning a degree in such a groundbreaking field isn’t easy, and White was working, traveling and starting a family at the same time.

Soon after he returned from deployment and reenrolled at the main campus, his wife received a job opportunity she couldn’t pass up. The only complication: It required relocating to Colorado. White once again needed flexibility above all else.

“Everyone at the UA has gone out of their way to help me figure this out,” he said. “I’d taken online courses [elsewhere] before, and it was very impersonal and they weren’t very accommodating.”

White faced different challenges as an online student, such as learning to persevere outside the traditional classroom and drawing his own lines between school and home life. But his UA Online advisors provided guidance every step of the way, and the flexibility offered by his online courses let him continue his studies no matter where he was. 

“When I was in Afghanistan, we got pushed out to a remote location where I had no internet connection and no communications back to the UA,” he said. “My wife contacted my instructor, who told her what was going on and adjusted timelines so I could make it up when I got back.

“That’s something I didn’t get anywhere else … and now I’m on track to finish up a program which, combined with my work experience, gives me a leg up on the competition in my field.”

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