THE BLOG
08/08/2013 06:37 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2013

A Most Incredible Journey

I've been on the road for the past two weeks, traveling across the country in a branded bus with others from the university for which I work. "Hmmm, bus trip across the country for a university," you think. "She must be a college recruiter." Guess again.

I'm a writer, not a recruiter -- nor is anyone else on this trip. We're traveling cross-country and back again, from New Hampshire down the east coast and then westward to the California and back to our home state, with many stops in between. The premise is simple actually. We're celebrating student success and meeting students and alumni, hearing their stories, and documenting them via video and through a blog created just for the journey.

The most incredible part of this journey is the people that we're meeting. We're connecting students with each other, with alumni, with faculty and with our staff, most for the very first time. You see, Southern New Hampshire University, a regionally accredited, nonprofit university founded 80 years ago in Manchester, N.H., has both a traditional campus in the same city as it was founded, five regional centers, and an ever-growing online population throughout the world. While we have opportunity to see campus students and center students regularly, we seldom get to meet our online students or see alumni that live throughout the country.

And now, we're involved in a six-week journey that not only seemed like an amazing premise to consider, but in reality is so much more. While a core group of staff and film crew are in it for the full six weeks, there are some us that are traveling for a lesser portion of the trip. I'll be on the road for 16 days, and although I have a full week still left, I'm already missing what's to come after I've returned home. So often we hear of inspirational stories, share the news items and the videos, yet how often do we get a front row seat as they unfold? Every day of this trip I've been privy to such wonderful experiences. Can you see why I'm already missing what's to come?

It's not just the stories either. I feel like I am a part of something that has never quite been done before and it's exhilarating. Everywhere we go, students, alums and their families can't quite believe that we're really here -- that we are that interested in them and their own stories to be on the road to where they live. And while we can't go everywhere, we're going to a lot of places and meeting so many truly fabulous people. It's a journey of over 7,000 miles and every day holds a new sense of greater community and connectedness that we've never felt before -- and it's contagious. The more people we meet, the more we can't wait to meet.

People say that online education can be an isolating experience. I've never thought that to be true. As someone who has been involved in online communities for many years in administrative and participatory roles, I count so many people as close friends although our friendships evolved in virtual worlds. At our university, there are advisors, professors and staff that have developed meaningful relationships with students that bridge any chasm purported to exist in an online environment, and now we're having an opportunity to finally say 'hello' in person and see each other face-to-face.

Throughout our time on the road, academic advisors have been coming out to meet students, and some faculty members, too. We have held two student-faculty-alumni-staff celebrations of success, in Florida and Texas, with another slated on August 10 in California. The joy we've experienced in meeting students and their families one at a time throughout this country magnifies tremendously with these events, and there's not a single person that doesn't feel it.

For online students, it's a sense of understanding they are an integral part of something bigger than themselves. For campus students and alumni, it's been an awakening that the college that meant so much in southern New Hampshire has grown far beyond what it once was, but yet remains true to its core mission of providing access to education to as many people as it can. And for staff -- advisors, writers like me, video editors, the creative team, our academic team -- this has been affirmation of everything we believe to be true of our students, and an opportunity to let them know how much we care about what we do and how much they matter to us.

I write this from the bus, at 5 a.m. as we journey from Dallas farther west to the opposite coast from where the trip began. We are up early each day, and what might be considered a workday to some doesn't end early or easily -- there's always more we want to do. I'm not tired though; just eager to see what's next. This is a front row seat that I'll be reluctant to leave. It's a privilege that I haven't taken for granted for a second.