Meet Carolyn Baker-Nair, From China to Albuquerque

Nair Hiking near Albuquerque
Carolyn Baker-Nair

Has it ever seemed like obstacles the size of the Rocky Mountains stand between you and your dreams? Carolyn Baker must have felt like that back in 2010.

Carolyn was in Nanyang, China (Henan Province) with her husband, teaching at the Nanyang Institute of Technology. She had finished her undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2008, and she was working on her Master’s in Environmental Science through a Canadian online program. Unfortunately, the Canadian program rarely offered the courses she needed.

“I was getting pretty discouraged,” Carolyn says. “Then my husband found UIS.”

The mountain-sized obstacles disappeared, and this May, Carolyn will complete her Master’s degree.

Like so many other UIS online students, Carolyn has had a busy professional life while pursuing her degree. She and her husband taught five years in China, then moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Using an intern’s license, she began teaching middle school math and science, and by the end of this school year, in addition to her MA in Environmental Studies, she will also earn her regular teaching license.

As both a teacher and a student, Carolyn has a unique perspective on online education. After reading her comments below, do you agree with her? What would you add?

Nair in China with a monkey
Carolyn-Baker Nair in China with a monkey

Name: Carolyn Baker-Nair

Current Location: Albuquerque, NM

UIS Degree and Major: Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies

Current employment: Middle School math and science teacher during the year; volunteer coordinator at the Botanic Garden in Albuquerque

How have your goals changed since you’ve been taking classes? After teaching middle school briefly, Carolyn is considering a different field. “Teaching in a middle school consumes your life,” she says. “To do it right and to really communicate with parents and get students engaged, it takes a lot of time.” She now thinks she will get her Ph.D., probably at the University of New Mexico, in biology, possibly concentrating her research on forestry. Then she will either work in the field or teach college.

Three good things about UIS online:

  1. Finishing in a timely manner. With her previous online program, the courses she needed were offered intermittently. At UIS, she has been able to stay on course and finish at her own schedule.
  2. The independence. “I like the independence of the online class because if you are really a self-motivated person you can say, ‘Okay, I’m going to sit down and read this book’ and then you can go online and talk about it. Of course, if you don’t have a lot of self-management and self-motivation, you’re not going to make it in an online class.”
  3. Getting to know other students: “There have been about four or five students who have been in classes with me over the years. When we do introductions at the beginning of the class, we say, ‘Hey, long time no talk. We haven’t typed to each other in a while.’ It’s hard to form long-lasting relationships. Most of us have really busy lives. But I do send private emails to other students that I feel comfortable with when I have questions or problems. When I see their names in the class, I am really happy.”

Three tips for other students:

  1. Read everything. “Don’t miss out on even one reading. I feel like I skipped too much during my undergraduate degree, so for my master’s degree I promised myself that I would never skip any reading. I read every word, every page. I think I’ve gotten a lot more out of the online classes because of it.”
  2. Don’t ever get behind.
  3. Make your online discussions as engaging as possible. “It’s always so much more interesting if you read other people’s responses before adding your own response so that you don’t post the same thing. You can also go in and ask people questions and critique what they have written. When they respond to you, you’ll have an engaged discussion.”

How to make an online program better:
For Carolyn, the way a professors manages the discussion boards has a big impact on the value of the class. “My first two classes at UIS were wonderful. They are still my favorite classes. One was Social Sciences and the second was Sustainable Food and Agriculture. For those classes’ discussion boards, we actually didn’t have a lot of requirements. The professors just said, ‘Post your own question, and then go for it.’ We sometimes had discussions with 15 responses, and students were just going at it back and forth like a real conversation.” According to Carolyn, other professors post their own questions, which may or may not elicit interesting responses, and one professor even required students to respond to all other students’ post every week. “It all become forced,” Carolyn says, “and we were all miserable and exhausted.” That class remains her least favorite at UIS.

Carolyn in China on a City Street
Carolyn Baker-Nair in China on a City Street