Kimberly DiGeronimo has never met any of her classmates in person. But through virtual game nights of Pictionary and trivia coupled with the occasional pet or family member popping into the background of a Zoom call, she feels as though she knows them personally.
“I've met people that I still keep in contact with today,” the 50-year-old UF business administration major said.
DiGeronimo is a part of UF’s online bachelor’s program, which ranked No. 3 in the nation by the U.S. News & World Report on Jan. 26 – an ascension from the No. 4 position it held last year. The program has ranked among the top five online programs in the United States for the past three years.
Assistant Provost and Director of UF Online Evangeline Cummings said she and the other UF Online staff members are thrilled about the rise in rank. She attributes the program’s success to years of focusing on how to deliver the complete, authentic UF experience in a flexible format.
“I’ve been working with the deans for years to articulate, so what does high quality online mean to us?” Cummings said. “If that meant smaller class sizes, selective admissions to ensure students were ready for the rigor of UF coursework, that’s what we were going to do.”
The online bachelor’s program is available to more students than the roughly 4,000 who are currently enrolled, Cummings said. The courses offered are not exclusive to students only online but are available to traditional students who desire to take online classes.
The program has 10 student ambassadors, and DiGeronimo is one of them. She has become acquainted with the faculty and staff behind the scenes, and she said they truly care about the students.
DiGeronimo said she has been hosting virtual game nights once or twice a month for the past year. The student ambassadors are always trying to come up with new groups to cater to different interests, such as a photography group, an arts and crafts group and a film club, she said.
“You don’t necessarily want someone to just feel like another number, or another name, you want them to feel a part of UF,” she said. “There are tons of resources and events and activities that the online student community can take part in and be a part of not even stepping foot in Gainesville.”
Ashley Orr was admitted into UF’s Pathway to Campus Enrollment program in Fall 2020. PaCE aims to combine online and residential learning by providing incoming freshmen the opportunity to start their UF degree online before transitioning to campus, which accommodates for the lack of physical space to support all students desiring a UF education.
The asynchronous nature of the classes and the accessibility of her professors and TAs allow her to create her own unique schedule without sacrificing any part of the full UF experience, the 19-year-old UF Family, Youth and Community Sciences freshman said.
“They recognize you as a UF student, they don't discredit you,” she said. “I still feel like I'm getting a good education and a good experience as a Gator.”
Orr said she had never taken an online course before coming to college, but her fears soon dissipated as she found her groove and even became involved in on-campus activities. She joined UF’s co-ed acapella group, “No Southern Accents,” and participates in UF’s Special Olympics Club.
No one should feel less than if they are accepted into PaCE over arriving at UF as a traditional student, Orr said, because being accepted by UF is a significant feat in itself and everyone has their own path.
“Everybody's a UF student no matter how you get there,” she said.
Contact Abigail Hasebroock at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @abbeyhasebroock.
Abigail is a second-year journalism major covering university general assignment news for The Alligator. When she’s not catching up on school or reporting, she’s spending time outside, reading or reorganizing her Spotify playlists - usually all at the same time.