New technologies, same great program: UNK’s online Biology M.S. celebrates 20 years of excellence

Posted: June 12, 2023 6:00:00 AM CDT

Three graduates posing in front of backdrop.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s online Biology M.S. program is celebrating two decades of educating students through an online format. 
The program was developed in May of 2003, making it older than the majority of UNK’s incoming freshman.  
“I believe we are the oldest fully online Biology M.S. program,” Biology M.S. Online Program Coordinator Brian Peterson said. 
Throughout the decades, the program and technology has evolved with the times but the rigor and passion that the professors show towards their program and students have stayed consistently strong. 
“During our first several years, VHS tapes were the current technology,” Peterson explained. “Faculty would tape their lectures in front of on-campus graduate students in large taping rooms housed across campus in the communications and education buildings.” 
For those who were not around from the 70s to the early 2000s, a VHS tape is a rectangular object with film inside. You could watch a movie, or in this case your professors’ lectures, by inserting the VHS into a device called a VCR which was hooked up to a television. 
“I would then collect the boxes of VHS tapes, which ranged from 5-10 VHS tapes per student per class, box them up and mail them to each student,” Peterson continued.  
UNK’s online Biology program made the necessary changes to stay up to date with online education’s best practices and technology, which is a major reason the program has been successful throughout the years. 
“We went from VHS tapes, to DVDs, to online streaming,” Professor and Co-Chair of UNK’s Biology Department Dr. Kimberly Carlson said. 

Former DVD Biology lectures with 2023 pamphlet showcasing the new online master's program.

Not only has the technology within the program enhanced throughout the years, but so have the course options. 
The online program started out with a handful of elective course offerings but now has more than 70 elective courses to allow students the ability to create a program that fits their educational and career goals. 
“We have enough diversity in our course offerings and flexibility in the program that students can tailor the program to fit their needs,” Associate Professor and Director of UNK’s Biology M.S. program Dr. Austin Nuxoll said. 
“We are always looking for ways to improve the program,” Robyn Schoenebeck, another 
 online coordinator for the program, added. 
The department is rich with experienced and knowledgeable faculty who truly want what is best for their students. Professors often make improvements to the program based on student feedback. 
“For example, students were interested in 8-week classes during the fall and spring semesters, so we have begun offering a couple of classes in this format and they have been popular.  We plan to continue doing this in future semesters,” Schoenebeck explained. 
One thing that UNK’s online Biology program is not willing to change is the rigor, student focus, and quality of the online program.  
Seven years prior to Nuxoll accepting a teaching position at UNK, he was a student who received DVDs through the mail from UNK’s online Biology program. 
“One way it has stayed the same is from my early interactions as a student, the program has had quality professors that provide rigor to challenge students but are compassionate to a variety of student backgrounds and needs. We still see that from our faculty today,” Nuxoll said. 
Nuxoll utilized the program as a transition to receive his Ph.D. With so many unique and specific course offerings, the program can be used in many ways for students. 

High school biology teacher in class with students.

“Many use the program to get ahead in their high school teaching careers, but others use it as a steppingstone to Ph.D. programs or to industry jobs,” Dean of Arts and Sciences Dr. Paul Twigg said.  
“We have had students from nearly every state work towards their M.S. with us, and with all different professions and goals: high school teachers, lab supervisors and techs, conservation, wildlife and fisheries, those in or looking to get into the health or medical field, or those moving onto a Ph.D. and teach at the college or university level,” said Peterson. 
However students decide to utilize their UNK online Biology M.S. degree, they are receiving customized education from knowledgeable and caring professors that will allow them to succeed in their educational and career goals. 
“The online Biology program is one of UNK’s premier graduate programs,” Dean of Graduate Studies and Academic Outreach Dr. Mark Ellis said. “It was one of UNK’s first fully online programs and for almost 20 years it has helped drive UNK graduate enrollment. I have seen firsthand the progress this program has made over the last two decades and I cannot wait to see what the coming years will bring."

By: Heidi Knake

Category: UNK Online, General, Graduate Studies, Natural and Social Sciences

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