ELKO – Far from home, Miriam Bremmer Alva decided to earn a college degree while living in an expatriate community in Saudi Arabia.
Since 2012, Alva has lived in the Eastern Province Arabia — nearly 7,900 miles away — and decided to search for a degree program “that was 100% online.”
“I looked at many colleges and universities ‘claiming’ to be, but none of them were completely online or had a program that stood out to me,” Alva recalled.
Then she found Great Basin College, an accredited institution that “checked all the important boxes” and discovered it had an Associate’s of Applied Science program for Early Childhood Education.
“Once I connected with Lynette Macfarlan, the program director who became my adviser and my mentor, there was honestly no question about needing to look any further.”
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After finding her school, Alva then learned where GBC was located.
“I had never heard of Elko prior to finding GBC,” she said. “I had no idea where it was, even in relation to Las Vegas!”
On Saturday morning, Alva, 44, will walk onto the Great Basin College campus in Elko for the first time and receive her diploma, wearing her Phi Theta Kappa sash that represents her 3.9 GPA and all the hard work that it took to earn her academic honors.
One of the challenges was not having in-person or face-to-face time with her instructors and other students, she said. “As an online distance student, you don’t have as much access to raise your hand and ask questions, or paring up with a fellow peer and connect with them like in a traditional classroom.”
Another challenge was taking proctored exams online that had to be scheduled to accommodate the 10-hour time difference between Saudi Arabia and Elko.
“These memories stand out to me the most because my husband and son would anxiously wait in another room in the house until I finished testing to celebrate with me or console me.”
Alva’s support system included her 14-year-old son Matthew King and her “adoring husband Douglas, a passionate second-grade teacher.”
Her family will be in attendance at GBC when Alva receives her diploma. “I am Mexican American and the first in my family to graduate college,” she said.
“This degree is a gift for me,” Alva explained. “Even though it’s a piece of paper, the level of effort and sacrifice it took to obtain it is a demonstration to the self-persona that doubts what one can accomplish with hard work and dedication.”
Alva’s hard work paid off, and she was inducted into the PTK honor society. She said she was unable to attend the ceremony online due to the time difference, but has the certificate framed in her home and "proudly” wears PTK gear.
After completing her degree officially in December, Alva traveled to Egypt to celebrate, taking pictures with her sash and graduation cap in front of the pyramids.
“Of course, I would have loved to show more support through volunteering and at events to serve the community, but as we all know, we can’t be in two places at once.”
Alva said she has volunteered in her local kindergarten through fourth-grade classroom, which was where she completed her practicum hours last fall. “I can’t get enough of the joy working with children gives me.”
Now she is in talks with the assistant principal of the school in her area and hopes for an opening to work in early childhood “on a more consistent basis.”
For students looking for an online program, Alva has some advice for them in the research stage and as a student.
The first is for people to find out which degree programs are online that align with their end-goals, and create a pros and cons list. “Figure out if you identify more with the pros so that the cons become ‘just the little strings attached.’”
After starting classes, Alva recommends students reach out to professors if there’s something they don’t understand. “Don’t hesitate to check in and ask follow-up questions.” Staying organized is also important and becoming familiar with “any and all resources available and use them.”
Alva also advises to “lean on your support system. Whether it’s friends, family, co-workers or your advisers.”
“Don’t shy away from letting others be involved in your journey. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable with them when you’re frustrated or nervous about a paper or exam, or even need a little help with a subject or whatever it may be.”
“Remember, no one is really self-made. We all depend on someone to help us succeed and, honestly, it is a beautiful feeling to share our successes with others.”