Jeremy Kiene is in the process of reinventing himself. For several years, Kiene taught Renaissance literature at a small liberal arts college on the East Coast and then at a large research university on the other side of the country.
While he is passionate about writing, teaching and research, Kiene's lifelong love of animals—spurred on through volunteer work at animal shelters—made him rethink his career. After some introspection and encouragement from family and friends, Kiene courageously stepped away from the lectern and put himself in his students' shoes as a student himself.
"I realized that I would need to fill substantial gaps in my education if I wanted to be a serious candidate for veterinary school admission," says Kiene, "much less if I wanted to succeed as a practicing veterinarian. My humanities Ph.D. training didn't afford me much exposure to physiology, immunology or organic chemistry!"
Not interested in completing a second undergraduate degree, Kiene is keen on completing his science prerequisites from UC Berkeley Extension, among other schools. Even as a professor, Kiene found it difficult to snag a coveted seat in any of his needed science courses, which is where Extension's online offerings stepped in.
"A friend in the veterinary field had taken a Berkeley course as part of her continuing professional education and recommended that I check out the Extension website," Kiene remembers. "I was nervous about taking online courses for a variety of reasons, but when I discovered the wide variety of both introductory and advanced undergraduate biology courses available online through such a respected institution, it meant that I could complete my biology prerequisites on a schedule that worked for me, at a reasonable tuition rate, with faculty at a world-class research university. What's particularly thrilling is that since I began my career transition in earnest three years ago, the breadth of Extension online courses in the biological sciences has steadily increased, making it possible for me to account for the majority of my biology requirements at a single—and in this case, outstanding—institution."
The online classroom permits a surprising degree of personalization of the educational experience.
Why were you nervous about taking online courses?
I have a lot of experience in the traditional classroom, both as a student and as an instructor, and because of this I was skeptical at first about whether online instruction would be as effective as traditional face-to-face classroom instruction. The kind of direct interaction that enables a good instructor to tailor her or his approach to the individual needs of a specific set of students is necessarily absent in the online environment—or so I thought. I'm happy to report that the online classroom does permit a surprising degree of personalization of the educational experience, as well as a user-friendly interface for uploading completed assignments and downloading syllabi, lectures, supplemental readings and online resources. I've found that distance-learning requires more self-discipline and self-motivation than traditional classroom instruction, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Because I've been able to arrange my online course schedule to fit smoothly around my many other commitments, I've been able to ensure that time spent on coursework is more concentrated, and I have the time necessary to really focus and prepare for each final exam.
I've established real mentoring relationships with my instructors—their encouragement has sustained me during this career transition.
Did you miss the face-to-face interaction with classmates and your instructors?
I've been really impressed with the depth, generosity and promptness of my instructors' responses to questions and feedback on my completed work. Even though I've not had the chance to meet them in person, I've established real mentoring relationships with my instructors; their encouragement has sustained me during this career transition. And I've been pleasantly surprised, too, by how much of a genuine connection I've felt with fellow students, who are logging in from all over the world. They bring an impressive diversity of experience and accomplishment, a fact that truly enriches the online learning experience. In most classes, students are encouraged to engage critically and constructively with one another's ideas on the discussion boards, and the warmth and enthusiasm of these exchanges is infectious. One of the most valuable lessons I've learned as a participant in these exchanges is that in attempting to forge a new professional identity, I am definitely not alone. Every introductory discussion board for every Extension course I've taken is replete with stories of determination, imagination, courage and the pure joy of lifelong learning.
You're working as a veterinary technician now. How have the courses helped you in this position?
I constantly use what I've learned in the science courses at work: calculating medication doses, identifying bacterial pathogens under the microscope, interpreting blood chemistry analysis results, explaining to a client how a vaccine will work to prevent his new puppy from contracting a fatal illness, talking through a particular disease process or treatment plan for a client worried about her sick cat. Mastering the technical and problem-solving skills involved in medicine takes a lot of time and constant practice, but having a fundamental grasp of the science underlying these processes and concepts is absolutely essential. The courses I've taken have provided me with that solid foundation.
I've also profited enormously from the guidance and expertise of an excellent staff of veterinarians and experienced technicians at my hospital, who teach me something new every day and who inspire me with their examples of skill and compassion for both animals and their people.
Thank you, Jeremy, for sharing your story with us. We wish you much luck in your journey in attending a DVM program next year and the veterinary adventures that lie ahead!