Clarion University Students go Online for Master's Degrees and New Career Avenues with Mass Media Arts and Journalism Program

Once Amy Pletz puts her five young children to bed for the evening, it's time to get ready for class at Clarion University.

Amy PletzHowever, Amy doesn't go to class - the class comes to her.

A second-year graduate student in the university's Online Mass Media Arts and Journalism (MMAJ) program, Amy says she wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, it has become something of a running joke between Amy and her sister Cheri, who is earning her bachelor's degree in education at Penn State's Berks campus.

"Between her job and child care, Cheri is nearly losing her mind trying to finish this degree with three kids," Amy says. "She has to drive to the Penn State campus every week, and is struggling to attend even on a part-time basis. But I ask myself, 'When will school come to me today?' And I think, 'Oh, it might get here around five!'"

The 32-year-old Bernville, Pa. resident says that although she lives in the eastern part of the state near Reading, she never feels far from her classmates, instructors and courses on Clarion University's Virtual Campus. They are all just a click away. "By having the opportunity to learn at home, asynchronously, I set the class times," Amy notes. "When I'm in class I can turn around and see my beautiful children playing in the living room - what more could I ask for? And best of all, because I attend Clarion at a distance, I don't have to choose between spending time away at school and staying at home with my family - I can have both."

MMAJ graduate student Corri Filipowski hangs out with her favorite driver, Greg Biffle, at the Roush Museum in Livonia, Mich. in August 2007.  Biffle drives the #16 3M Ford Fusion for Roush Fenway Racing.Corri Filipowski of Oil City resides at the other end of the spectrum.

She has no kids and lives across the state in western Pennsylvania. However, the 42-year-old high school English teacher says she chose the online M.S. in MMAJ program for similar reasons. "I live far enough away from campus that classroom-based courses would be impossible," she says. "With my grading workload and the evening hours I have to put in as a teacher, I just couldn't get on the road and drive somewhere for classes. I have seen many people try it and fail."

Corri adds that the flexible online format also allows her to spend more time at home with her husband Steve. "Instead of putting the time into driving, I can spend it on the courses. Also, if I have a planning period and my lessons are all finished I can also get some of it done during the day."

The M.S. in MMAJ Program

Offered through Clarion University's Department of Communication, the Online M.S. in MMAJ is a 36-credit program designed for individuals pursuing careers in public relations, corporate communication, media management, journalism, and other mass media-related fields. It also provides a solid foundation for graduates entering doctoral programs. The program is intended for busy adults who cannot travel to campus due to distance, job commitments or family responsibilities. Students can complete coursework from any location with an Internet connection, without ever having to come to campus.

Although Corri is a successful teacher at Titusville High School, she says she has always loved the field of public relations - especially the writing and media relations work . As Corri approaches graduation in Summer 2010, she is on track to fulfill her lifelong dream of completing a public relations internship with NASCAR, Inc. "I will be moving among several different locations including Dover Speedway, Pocono Speedway and perhaps even New Hampshire," Corri says. "I hope to be writing press releases, planning special events and arranging media interviews with the drivers."

In similar fashion, Amy is melding her career as an educator with her love for writing, public relations and journalism. She will be finishing the MMAJ program in just one year. This fall, Amy is headed off to a public relations internship with Yahweh's Restoration Ministry in Holts Summit, Mo. Here, she will write extensively for the ministry's publications and its website. She will also produce videos, organize special events and conduct media relations. Amy's husband Jason and their five children will be making the trip with her.

"Before enrolling at Clarion University, I put so much time into researching graduate programs that would meet my needs," Amy recalls. "I couldn't find anything that was directly related to writing, journalism or public relations. But at Clarion, I didn't have to compromise what I wanted to do. This degree program has it all."

Also this fall, Amy will be starting a full-time English faculty position with Linn State Technical College in Linn, Mo. She says the M.S. in MMAJ gave her the credential she needed to land the job. "In the interview, the faculty asked me where I went to graduate school," she says. "When I told them I was earning an online degree program through Clarion University, they were impressed. The faculty viewed my online student experiences as an asset because as an instructor, I know what works and what doesn't."

Recalling what worked best for her, Filipowski says most Clarion faculty answered her e-mail messages promptly, returned assignments quickly and showed flexibility when emergencies came up. "When my dad became ill last year, Dr. Lingwall allowed me to postpone several assignments, which really helped me out," she says. "Dr. Ponsford, a professor I had for a marketing class, even called me to see how I was doing."

Pletz adds, "I never had an e-mail that went unanswered. I was never frustrated with a lack of communication between me and my professors. The truth is, sometimes an e-mail can be easier than trying to find someone in their office."

Pletz says she was also happy to find that the MMAJ program emphasizes writing, as opposed to the automated exams she found when exploring many other online master's programs. "Since I am a writer, this is so important to me," she says. "If you are in it to really learn it, you need assessments that require more in-depth thought, translating ideas and synthesizing. At Clarion, we get to do all of this through the discussion forums, essay exams and our e-mail communications."

More Online Advantages

Beyond the convenience and flexibility of online education, Pletz added that she was able to finance her entire Clarion degree program through student loans. "Without financial aid, I would not have been able to attend school," she says. "The money covered my books, a laptop, and even helped offset living expenses. There may be some people who aren't aware that you can finance distance education through student loans."

Dr. Art Acton, Clarion University's Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, notes that online courses carry the same instructional rigor as those offered in the classroom. "Clarion University delivers online educational programs that are convenient and flexible, and which are held to the same quality standards as traditional on campus instruction," he says. "These programs all meet or exceed the rigorous requirements for regional and national accreditation."

Words of Advice to Potential Students

For anyone considering online study, what is most important to know? How do you decide whether it is right for you? Corri advises prospective students to remember that online study is just as legitimate and challenging as classroom-based coursework. "The reality is you have to be a more serious student to be successful. There's nobody to keep you there or to make you do the readings and assignments."

If you're a bit scared of computers, Corri says that it's not always easy to figure out, but that most professors have always been willing to help her. "The key is, you can't wait too long and you have to be proactive about asking for help," she says. "If I stick with it and try hard, I can usually figure it out. Also, the other students in the class were always great resources if I needed them."

Amy adds that if you are considering a degree via distance education, regardless of the major, you must be highly motivated. "You have to really want it. You have to want it for yourself. Not just for the degree," she says. "You have to really want the experiences, the new connections, the networking.

"And remember, because you are learning at home, you must find your own time and space to do your work. The students who don't' succeed often have no designated study space. Disorganization breeds stress and failure," she says. "In a traditional classroom, there is a place designated for you. In distance education, the class comes to you, so where is your class going to be? That home space becomes your classroom and learning zone."

Ironically, Amy says her home learning zone has become an inspirational space for the Pletz kids. "My children get to watch me learn online and do my homework. I have been able to model good study habits and a share a sincere zeal for learning," she notes. "My oldest daughter, Kaitlyn, has fallen in love with writing because of seeing what I get to do in class. I think I have a second-generation distance learner here!"

About Clarion University

Located 70 miles north of Pittsburgh in northwestern Pennsylvania, Clarion University is a public, state university with an annual enrollment of 5,500 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. The university sits on an historic 100-acre campus with 43 buildings including the Carlson Library, two dozen computer laboratories, and a $35 million science and technology center. Clarion University offers 27 nationally accredited programs, which is the most in the state system.

For more information

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Online M.S. in MMAJ or other Virtual Campus programs at Clarion University should call 1-866-272-5612, send e-mail to or go online at

Last Updated 3/4/20