A Day in the Life of Online Coordinator Melissa Breyer
Growing up, Melissa Breyer joined friends of her father’s as they banded birds. Those early experiences tramping through the Wisconsin terrain led to a career in environmental science. Following a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Melissa spent three years working throughout the country as a wildlife biologist.
She focused primarily on the survival of shore birds. One notable exception was a project in Wyoming on the behavior of greater sage grouse (photo at right). “I really liked it because it gave me a different perspective,” she says.
Interested in expanding her expertise from birds to mammals, in 2013 Melissa came to UIS as a Graduate Public Service Intern (GPSI). She interned with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as a grant administrator intern.
“After so much time in the field,” she says, “I was happy to get some administrative experience.”
She opted for the Master of Science program and wrote a thesis that compared two non-invasive survey techniques for detecting the presence of Franklin’s ground squirrels (photo at right). She finished her degree this past May and hopes eventually to return to work as a wildlife biologist.
“Before, I did fulltime temporary jobs,” she says, “and worked as a technician. I’m applying now for fulltime permanent work.” She says it will take a while to get a position—jobs are scarce and the application process has been long and frustrating.
In the meantime, she is working 29 hours each week as the online coordinator at UIS for graduate environmental studies programs. Here’s how she spends a typical day:
When I get to the office, I begin by checking my email. I always respond oldest to newest so there will be the least time between when students send a question and when I answer them.
I created a document to track contacts—prospective students, current students, applicants, and what dates I email them and when they email me back. IF they email me back, that is! I fill that document in next.
I also write down when I need to follow up even if they don’t respond, usually waiting at least two weeks. So far, no one has been annoyed!
Through all my day, I respond to emails when they come in, especially from potential students. Professors often forward these questions to me.
And once a student has been accepted, I send them an email that welcomes them and says, Here’s what you are going to need to do first when the semester starts.
Sometimes the student’s advisor also emails the student, and with all these contacts, they get excited.
For an online student, knowing that someone is reaching out right away means a lot.
Once I have finished responding to students, I get started on a long-term project I’m working on: how to recruit more international students. I especially investigate countries that have a growing English-speaking population, most recently Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.
I do this research by looking at peer-reviewed scholarly articles, and my investigation has to include how well the internet works in the countries.
For example, I recently looked at Cuba. It turns out there’s not much internet penetration in Cuba, in or out, so an online program would be unlikely to reach there.
I used to work only 20 hours a week, and at 12:30, I would head home. Lately, my hours have been raised to 29 hours.
I answer questions throughout the day, from students or applicants. I’m expecting more questions now from students because so many will be preparing to graduate in May.
Currently I deal with two online specializations for the master’s degree: environmental planning and management, and sustainable development and policy. It’s helpful that I earned an MS degree which requires a thesis. If prospective students have questions about time commitment and thesis process, I can give them assurances about it.
And if they have questions about defending their thesis online, I can also explain that they can do it through Skype. I went to a project presentation recently that was very enjoyable for people who were there watching, so students don’t need to worry about that.
My research on international students fills in all my other time, and once I’ve finished studying the feasibility of offering the program in different countries, I’ll have to start thinking about how to market the program to international students.
I have lots to do every day. But students—current and prospective—always come first.
I go home where my rescue dog, Pilot, will be waiting. After a day of likely lounging he is ready to move! We either go to the dog park or play in the backyard. In the evenings I try to balance taking care of business (cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc.) with setting aside time to relax and recharge. To relax I read, watch movies with my boyfriend, color, or listen to music. When I am able to, I play ultimate Frisbee and soccer, and hike. I also enjoy spending time with friends playing board and card games.