As a Wisconsinite planning a move to Chicago, finding a quality public university that was located in my new home state was my first priority. As a remote learner, I wanted to find a Master’s program that provided the same quality of instruction as in-person learning. When I began researching UIS, I was thrilled to find out that the same professors teaching in-person courses also taught the corresponding online courses, and they even have special training to excel as online professors. I had completed my Bachelor’s degree in the traditional in-person format at my home university, so I was a little nervous to see how a virtual program functioned. I wondered if I would have the same level of communication and interaction with my professors and if I would be able to build relationships with them while we were in different states.
Those anxieties quickly melted away in my first semester of the program, and I was blown away by how attentive, skilled, and considerate my professors were. I was able to build quality relationships with my professors despite being hundreds of miles away. Writing papers at the graduate level had a bit of a learning curve for me, and I was worried that maybe I wasn’t cut out for it after receiving my first paper back with a less-than-stellar grade. However, once I read through the feedback I immediately felt encouraged to try again because my professor was able to provide both a strong critique but also kindly listed tangible ideas to re-work the paper. What really stood out about UIS professors is that they didn’t just give my paper back with a letter grade and a couple of vague suggestions—my professor provided detailed feedback, gave specific solutions to boost my writing, and provided tips on how I could better organize my paper. After implementing these suggestions in my revision, my paper flowed nicely, had a clear organizational framework, and had stronger arguments, earning me a much higher grade. These comments were so helpful, and I am very grateful that this frank feedback was given to me early in my graduate career, as it really helped me to see which aspects of my writing could use some more work.
I began my Master’s degree during the height of COVID-19, so naturally I also wondered how the pandemic would affect my learning. When I began experiencing COVID symptoms just a few weeks into my program, I worried that I would get behind in my courses. My professors were all so accommodating and flexible, and I was thankful that they allowed me to push back deadlines until I had recovered. As a single mom and former political operative, I am accustomed to always having to “power through” sick days without taking the time to rest and recover properly. After all, kids and politicians still need to be managed, even when you’re sick! What really stood out to me from this experience is that my professors viewed me as an individual and cared about my health, and didn’t view me as just another name on their roster.
The political science department at UIS has contributed to my success in so many ways. The professors have given me confidence in myself, and the feedback that I’ve received from them has transformed my writing. Prior to beginning my Master’s degree, I had worked as a political fundraiser for four years. Because politics is so fast-paced and is constantly changing, it can be difficult to get honest feedback for professional development when you’re busy tackling the big problem of the day. Oftentimes, professional development has to be pushed to the back burner in order to focus on the campaign and the Member of Congress. So, when I began courses at UIS, it was incredibly refreshing for me to receive consistent, helpful feedback from my professors, and I could tell that they really spent some time reviewing and writing their suggestions.
UIS is preparing me to re-enter the political arena by encouraging my focus in political spending, elections compliance, and the effects of political spending on election outcomes. I plan to continue my political career transferring out of fundraising and into elections compliance consulting, so my research project is preparing me to enter the world of political consulting. I am so glad that I chose UIS to earn my Master’s degree, and I am looking forward to taking what I’ve learned in the program and applying it to Illinois politics.
Erica Hougen is a student in the Online Political Science Master's Degree program at UIS.
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