Online students apply skills in out-of-class engaged scholarship opportunities

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Eric Ekobeni learned how to develop a work breakdown structure — organizing a project into smaller, more manageable components — in his online Penn State business management classes. When it came time to put those skills into practice in an internship, he chose an unconventional route: helping build a school in his native Cameroon.

Ekobeni’s path to a Penn State degree has also been unconventional. A refugee from Cameroon who came to the United States in 2002 and received political asylum, he completed two years at a community college in Philadelphia and transferred to Penn State World Campus in 2013. Ekobeni, who lives in northeast Philadelphia and works as a senior analyst for Barclays in Wilmington, Delaware, completes his schoolwork at night and on weekends, while also raising three children with his wife, Alice.

Ekobeni “is a great example of what the adult student embodies,” said Michelle M. Kline, the Penn State business and accounting faculty member who oversaw his internship project. Ekobeni wanted to combine his skills with his passion, she said, and despite running into various bureaucratic obstacles, “he never gave up and continues to push on.”

Ekobeni expects to graduate with a bachelor of science degree in May. The internship required as part of his major is one of many ways in which World Campus students, like their on-campus counterparts, can take part in out-of-class engaged scholarship experiences that complement their in-class learning.

“Everything that I learned in classes helped me put together and run the project,” Ekobeni said. “I got a true sense of reality outside of the class setting.”

"I’m actively using the skill sets that I’m learning in school and applying them to real-life situations."

-- Angela Chang, online master’s student in geographic information systems

Angela Chang, who is pursuing a master’s degree online in geographic information systems with a focus on remote sensing and geospatial intelligence, put her new skills to work almost immediately. Chang, who is 30, was already working at Amnesty International, where she uses satellite technology to help corroborate reports of human rights abuses in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Last year she began working with the International GIS team at the American Red Cross, using GIS to help analyze humanitarian needs in disaster response and ongoing Red Cross programs around the world.

“I’m actively using the skill sets that I’m learning in school and applying them to real-life situations,” Chang said.

Chang also takes part in after-hours “mapathons” with her Red Cross colleagues as part of the Missing Maps Project — using satellite imagery to help fill in unmapped areas so that better information is available in the event of a crisis or disaster.

At Amnesty, Chang used satellite imagery to corroborate witness testimony of forced evictions and housing demolitions by the government in Turkmenistan. Chang, who has a bachelor’s degree in international relations, said she hopes eventually to work in government. “I’d love to continue working with satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing,” she said.

Ekobeni, 43, came up with his internship project through his involvement with the Cameroonian Association of Greater Philadelphia, which meets monthly to find ways to help his homeland. A friend and association member who died several years ago had started building the school in the village of Ndento in western Cameroon, which did not have a junior high school. Land had been obtained and two classrooms built, but the building still had no doors or windows.

As part of his internship, Ekobeni completed a project map and work breakdown structure and organized a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe with the goal of raising $15,000 to complete the original building and add two additional classrooms. Although the internship has ended, Ekobeni is continuing to work toward his goal.

“To commemorate the memory of my good friend, I'll bring that dream to reality,” he said. “We still have a lot to do.”

Last Updated March 31, 2016