Helping Students Achieve their Dream

When Jarin Eisenberg graduated with her master’s degree in 2009 she found herself smack dab in the middle of a job market that had been radically transformed by the Great Recession.

Thousands of workers were losing their jobs, “the housing bubble had burst and the banking system was collapsing,” Eisenberg has said of that period in her life. “There was a lot of uncertainty around me.”

She and her husband, Branimir, dropped plans to move out West and headed instead to Florida’s Space Coast to be near family. Within a matter of months, she had achieved her goal: a position as Program Coordinator at Florida Institute of Technology’s Nathan M. Bisk College of Business.  

“I walk into work every day feeling positive and optimistic,” said Eisenberg, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology from the University of South Florida. “I am also fortunate to work for people who allow to me explore my interests.”

As program coordinator, Eisenberg manages undergraduate and graduate online degree programs in International Business, Information Technology Management and Computer Information Systems. Her responsibilities range from updating course content to researching online learning technologies and advising students.

“A student’s needs take precedent over everything else I do,” she said.

We spoke with Eisenberg about her role at Florida Tech, the major factors in student success and her work in nurturing the development of female students and faculty.

Q. Tell us about your background and how you came to Florida Tech.

I graduated in 2009 with a master’s degree in sociology from the University of South Florida. There was a lot of uncertainty politically and economically during that time. The housing market was crashing, there were record job losses and a lot of instability in general. My husband and I originally planned to pursue PhDs at Colorado State but decided it would be best to move to the Melbourne area where we would have family support. The moment we decided to move here, I had no goal other than to secure a position at Florida Tech. To me, it is the center of the Space Coast area. Everyone, in one way or another, has a connection to Florida Tech and I knew that everyone viewed it as a prestigious organization. I was determined to start my career there.

I will never forget the day I got the call offering me the position as a Program Coordinator for the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business at Florida Tech. After learning about the position during my interview, I was even more convinced that Florida Tech was where I should be. The partnership between Florida Tech and Bisk Education provided me a unique venue to use the foundation of knowledge I acquired in graduate school to help students achieve their dream of earning a college degree.

Q. What does your typical day look like as program coordinator for online degree programs at Florida Tech’s Nathan M. Bisk College of Business?

There is a lot of planning that goes on behind the scenes because we run on eight-week terms. On a typical day I am checking on the current term’s classes, planning for the upcoming term, and usually planning for changes and redevelopments several terms ahead. On any given day I have to be ready to reprioritize my tasks and responsibilities, especially when it involves a student who needs some additional support and guidance. Students are the reason why we are here and they are our first priority. A student’s needs take precedent over everything else I do. We understand how crucial it is for students to get timely feedback to any question they may have because of the fast-paced nature of the online program.

So whether it is building the next term’s schedule, working on redevelopments or helping students gain a better understanding of their degree program, all of the tasks and responsibilities I do are centered around the students having a positive experience in their courses and providing them the academic content that will make them successful when they graduate from Florida Tech and pursue a career.

Q. What are the most important factors for student success in an online program?

Organization and time-management. I try to stress to my students how important it is to print out their syllabi and review it not just on a weekly basis but to always be looking a week or two weeks ahead. The whole course is open for students from the first day of the term so it is crucial that they plan ahead and have a detailed understanding of the requirements and expectations of the course. I also think it is very important for students to reach out to their professors at some point to build a relationship with them beyond asking questions about assignments. Students may need a letter of recommendation one day or need advice, and building a positive teacher-student relationship is essential to students enhancing the quality of their social network.

Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

That I am actually an introvert, despite the fact that I frequently find myself talking in front of large groups. I love giving presentations, but I mostly love hanging at home with my husband, Branimir, and reading. While I feel totally comfortable in front of a group of people and speaking on issues of education, gender and sexuality, afterward I can’t wait to grab a book and just got lost in a story. Next to my husband, books and literature are the loves of the life.

Q. You received Florida Tech’s Joan Bixby Award in recognition of your contributions to nurturing the development and participation of female students and faculty members. Can you tell us more about this honor?

I could never have predicted the impact receiving the Joan Bixby Award would have on me personally and professionally. As a sociology major, I was so used to talking about issues regarding gender and inequality that I didn’t know any better than to continue that discussion in the workplace. I would point out that women were more likely to be asked to go make copies, or ask someone why they were discussing one matter or another in stereotypical fashion. I think if I was in a corporate environment, I would have been told to be quiet a long time ago, but at Florida Tech they gave me an award! I am fortunate that I work with a group of people who really supported my perspective and listened to what I had to say. From the first day I started I made it a point to talk about my skills and my experiences in graduate school. I wanted my coworkers and my supervisors to understand the knowledge I was bringing to the table. I would volunteer for extra projects so I could showcase my writing and research skills. I think my being assertive from the start and overtly demonstrating how I expected to be treated has done me a lot of favors. I don’t think I thought of it in those terms when I was doing it, but it has certainly benefited me.

The morning of the [awards] event I was told I would be given the opportunity to say a few words and I thought, “This is my chance to share my voice,” and I took those few minutes they gave me and spoke my mind. The support I received after was overwhelming and it let me know that what I was saying was important to other people as well. From there, I was given a number of other speaking opportunities, which has led to many other opportunities, such as writing an article in the Florida Today newspaper. As a book nerd, there is nothing cooler than seeing your words in print.

Dr. Annie Becker, Dean of the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business, nominated me for the award and I will be forever grateful for her providing me this launching pad. It is also a prime example of something else I feel so strongly about: women helping other women in the workplace. Too often we see the woman sitting next to us as competition and it prevents us from seeing the commonalities we share. There is room for all of us to be successful. My female coworkers are a tremendous comfort to me and I feel fortunate every time I take a seat at the table and there are other women sitting there, too.

Q. What are the most satisfying aspects of your work at Florida Tech?

The environment I work in and seeing students who I have worked with for years graduate. We have one rule here in Online Learning and that is: Be Excellent to Each Other. That rule sets the tone for the organization and how we treat one another. I work with a supportive group of people who cheer on each other’s successes and lend a hand when a little extra support is needed. I walk into work every day feeling positive and optimistic. I am also fortunate to work for people who allow to me explore my interests. Recently, I asked for sponsorship to be a guest on a local radio show and the administration here said yes without any hesitation. I appreciate that I have support to grow personally and professionally here.

Q. You have written about how “strong, fiercely intelligent women” shared their experiences and wisdom with you during your college years. How has that impacted your personal and professional life?

It has had a tremendous impact on me. Too often we are surrounded with a singular version of what it means to be a woman and what a woman should look like. We get so caught up in trying to meet this ideal standard that we don’t take notice of other images and ideals that portray qualities beyond who is “pretty.” My female professors in college were so confident and intelligent. They were thoughtful, complex women who did not adhere to traditional standards of femininity. Being around them really made me question what type of woman I wanted to be. Many of the women were married but kept their last name. It was like I didn’t even know I could do that until I noticed they had. These were women who let me into their home, shared personal stories with me, and those moments were invaluable. They made me want to expect more from myself and my relationships. It has taught me to consciously seek out women in different areas of social life who I can learn from. Whether that is other women at work, in my personal life or even just what I read and watch, I love being surrounded by and having knowledge of women who are paving their way in whatever career path they choose.

I am a huge Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling fan. Not only do these ladies write and produce their own shows, they do not stray away from the feminist label like so many other people do. They embrace it because it is who they are. It guides their decision-making process and that shows through with the type of content they produce.

Q. Do women face unique challenges in pursuing a degree online?

Definitely. In the literature they refer to this as the third shift, the notion that in addition to work and family responsibilities, women then take on the additional tasks of online education. Women take on so many roles. Though a lot of progress has been made, women are still more likely to take on the primary responsibilities of child care and care of elderly parents than men. You add these responsibilities onto general household tasks and a career and there is a lot of push and pull that women encounter to be successful. Often it is after the chores have been done and the kids are in bed that women get the opportunity to sit and concentrate on their studies. We know that education is key for economic opportunities, so it is so important that we design our programs with the specific challenges and obstacles our student population faces.

Q. Do you have a favorite student success story?

I have two! One was a male student of mine who worked on his degree while he was serving in Afghanistan. I had been in contact with him throughout his time at Florida Tech and to see him progress through the program was so rewarding. During his last term he sent me a picture of himself wearing a Florida Tech sweatshirt standing on a mountain in Afghanistan. It truly represented the anywhere, anytime education Florida Tech Online offers.

Recently, I had a female student I had been working with graduate and I had the opportunity to also have her as a student in her last term. I was so impressed with how professional this student was. She never even mentioned that we had a previous relationship because I was her Program Coordinator and had worked with her all along. Reading her work in class, I was so impressed with her ability to put her ideas in words and the quality of her assignments. In addition to her studies, she is a mom and a wife. After she graduated she reached out to tell me that she used her Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration – Computer Information Systems degree to get a position as web designer for a company in the Midwest. I could not have been more proud of her. She graduated with a 4.0

Q. How does earning a degree online differ from earning a degree on campus?

We make every effort to mirror our online curriculum to our on-campus curriculum. So, in terms of academics, I think there is a lot of parity there and the academic content students receive and the assignments they have to complete are very similar to those of our on-campus student population. However, I do think some of the socialization that takes place in an on-campus environment is lost in an online program. So much of what you learn in school takes place outside of the classroom. I know that some of the most important lessons I learned in school took place in the halls with professors or when they would stop by the graduate offices to see how we were doing or take us out for food. That is why I think it is so important for students to reach out to their professors and make every attempt to build a teacher-student relationship that goes beyond, “Why did I get this question wrong?”

Q. What advice do you offer to students who are struggling in a course?

Seek help! We have so many resources here at Florida Tech to assist students. We have a student resource center. We have a whole department devoted to student success, as well as other services such as Smarthinking, which provides online tutoring. I think students have to take a step back and ask themselves, “Is this difficult for me because I am struggling with the content or is this difficult for me because I am having trouble managing my time and understanding what is expected of me?” Those are two very different reasons and they require different actions.

Q. Tell us about your work as Project Administrator/Manager for The X-Culture Project. What have you learned about interactive learning environments through your work with X-Culture?

I have learned so much from working with The X-Culture Project. It is truly a unique project; I don’t think there is anything else like it. In any given term we have over 3,000 students from 93 universities in 40 countries on six continents. From an administrative perspective it has taught me a lot about diversity and time-management, as well as the resources students in other schools are or are not afforded. Students are given eight weeks to complete a business plan proposal and each member on the team of seven is from a different country. Students have to overcome language barriers, time differences and cultural constraints to successfully complete the project. They use a variety of social media tools to communicate with one another. We try to give them the least amount of structure needed to complete the project so they can sort everything out on their own.

Every time we run the project I learn something new, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve the project and diversify its participants. This is one of the tasks I volunteered for very early on in my time here at Florida Tech and it has been extremely rewarding.

Q. What role are social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn playing in the evolution of online learning?

I don’t think there is an aspect of social life that has not been influenced by the social media revolution we have seen take place over the past decade. Students can connect with their online classmates like never before. Our students have created a Facebook page where they share study tips and offer support to their Florida Tech peers. They can see what their classmates look like, what their lives are like, and connect with them on a more personal level.

Click here to read Jarin Eisenberg’s article about the essential role that curiosity and self-discovery play in the development of well-rounded students. 

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