After 11 years, three changes in her field of study and the birth of her daughter, Apollonia Johnson finally earned her Bachelor of Science degree in political science with a minor in international affairs from the University of North Georgia (UNG). Her sister and her fiancée threw a surprise graduation party to celebrate in July.
“Finally earning my degree was like watching Germany win the World Cup,” said Johnson, who was born and raised in Germany. “And I could not have completed my degree if it hadn’t been all online.”
Johnson, a 32-year-old single mother from Athens, Georgia, was the first UNG student to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science completely online. The Department of Political Science & International Affairs (PSIA) is the first academic department at UNG to offer associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees online.
Dr. Dlynn Williams, head of PSIA and associate professor of political science, explained the PSIA department was an early adopter of online graduate programs when it started offering the Master of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA) online in fall 2009.
“The program was very successful from the beginning,” she said.
More online courses were steadily added, allowing the PSIA department to provide the Associate of Arts degree in political science pathway in fall 2016. A year later, the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program transitioned from in-person instruction to online in fall 2017. Its enrollment doubled over the next year.
“When we went online, we became more diverse, because enrollment was not limited by geography,” said Dr. Luisa Diaz-Kope, coordinator of the MPA program at UNG.
After that, PSIA faculty started discussing an online bachelor’s degree program. About the same time, Johnson decided to pursue a degree in political science and approached the department about earning it online. She worked a full-time job in higher education, held a part-time job and had a toddler at home.
“Earning my degree online was key because it offered me the flexibility I needed,” Johnson said. “My daughter would go to sleep at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Then I could do a load of laundry and study until 2 a.m. I fit in school where I could when I could. There is no way I would have gotten the degree another way.”
Since Johnson proved a student could earn a bachelor’s degree for political science completely online, the PSIA department officially launched the online program in fall 2020.
Williams said students with full-time jobs, working professionals and nontraditional students like Johnson are the ideal candidates for the program. She also expects more students to consider the online degree this fall.
“It will be attractive for individuals who are concerned about the coronavirus and are cautious about returning to class,” Williams said.
For students who wish to enroll in one of the department’s online programs, Williams advises them to contact Maria Albo, senior lecturer of political science. Albo is the unofficial academic adviser for students pursuing an online degree in PSIA.
“She has long history of teaching online and worked with Distance Education & Technology Integration to implement the program,” Williams said.
She also encourages students to register as an online student to track their progress and ensure they can complete their programs in an efficient manner. PSIA faculty and staff can also connect with students via email and through their blog. They are also active on the social media platforms of Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.
“We have put every effort into creating a community for online students as well as our brick-and-mortar students,” Williams said.