I believe that developing an inclusive and welcoming classroom environment is an important aspect of effective teaching and learning. But, how can we foster such an environment? Especially in an online classroom, where it may be harder to make connections between faculty and student?

Today we welcome Gregory Andrews, the Student Support Specialist at the University of New England’s (UNE) College of Graduate and Professional Studies. Greg will discuss UNE’s institutional philosophy for welcoming students to create an inclusive online environment.

Are you as equally inclusive in your classroom? What do you do to respect student identities in the online classroom environment?

Enjoy today’s post!

-Lindsey Downs

When looking for colleges, whether online or the more traditional brick and mortar, many students look at tangible areas. Questions often asked are: ‘How much will this cost?’ ‘How long is the program?’ ‘Are there residency requirements?’ ‘Is there a decent professor to student ratio?’ The list goes on and on.

One question that is rarely asked of an institution is ‘How will you make me feel like an individual?’ On top of this, nobody ever asks ‘How will you respect and work with my identities and create an inclusive environment?’ Whether social identities (religious, gender, race, etc.) or personal identities (parent, athlete, full time employee, etc.), these are often areas that a person must work with to create the best situation in a college environment, and rarely does a student question the institution unless it is a major issue.

The UNE Online Way

UNE Online however answers these questions before they are ever asked. You may be reading this and asking yourself how an online college program can possibly answer all of these questions regarding identities. The answer is simple; UNE Online listens to each student, and not only reactively but proactively.

Whether you’re a student in the Masters of Science in Education programs, Masters in Public Health, or even thgroup of students with various technology devicese Masters in Medical Education Leadership, you’re not given a voice; you’re simply encouraged to use the one you already have. Enrollment Specialists and Student Support Specialists are in contact with you from the moment you inquire about a program until the moment you graduate, and beyond if you like!

The inherent value of online education is the ability to work within the student’s schedule. Most people reflect on employment as the major reason why that is important, but consider this, UNE Online has students all over the world in different time zones, practicing different cultures.

Here at UNE Online, our staff creates opportunities to connect with each student to learn about their needs, and how to best make the connection between what they already know, and what our programs want to deliver!

Staff and Student Connections

You may be curious about the ways that we build connections between students and staff members.  We recognize that distance can be tough, so we are willing and able to utilize many different ways to stay connected. While e-mail and phone calls are the usual ways we stay in touch, our staff is always willing to go above and beyond. Skype or Google Hangout video chats are common, especially when we are reaching out to students in other countries.

In some cases, our students may not have the best connections or reception, and a simple instant message conversation might be in order.

We strive to keep students connected to the UNE community by checking in occasionally, and communicating ways that meets their technological needs!

The Platinum Rule

In the meantime, our support staff initiates“New Student Conversations” with every single newly enrolled student. word cloud or word jumble with the words golden, rule, and platinum. Platinum is in the middle in larger letters

The purpose of these calls is to get to know each student. The Student Support Specialists are looking to learn more about each person, from background, to goals for the future.

It is in these conversations that the UNE Online staff seeks to live by the “Platinum Rule” of Social Justice and Diversity, “Do unto others, as they would have done unto themselves.” Basically, the Student Support Specialists strive to create a connection and an inclusive environment that ensures every student has a chance to be themselves. They become a name, a person, a backstory, and a future graduate. Our students are never just a number.


When you’re a student with a UNE Online program, you are a person, and you are every bit as accepted as a person as you were when we called you to congratulate you on your entrance into your program.

So when we say “Welcome” at UNE Online, we mean it in a way that is very holistic and inclusive. If you’re currently a student with a UNE Online program, let me once again say, “Welcome.”

If you’re not a student with UNE Online, we welcome you to consider us, where acceptance is more than a letter, it’s an educational experience.

Greg Andrews headshot

Gregory Andrews
Student Support Specialist
University of New England’s
College of Graduate & Professional Studies

This post was originally published on the UNE Online Vision Blog.
Photo of Greg courtesy of Revolution Summer Photography

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