Through her online degree program, a Georgia woman finds a mentor and a friend

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Through her online bachelor’s degree program, a Georgia woman is getting more than an education.

Barbara Faerber, of East Cobb, Georgia, found a mentor and friend in a Penn State graduate who lives nearly 800 miles away. Faerber says Heather Mitterer, whom she met through a program that connects prospective online students with alumni, has helped her navigate college and build the confidence she needs to succeed.

“She’s been really awesome at helping me figure things out — how to schedule my week, which courses I put the most emphasis on,” said Faerber, a Penn State World Campus student. “She’s a cheerleader for me overall.”

They met in 2014. Mitterer, of New Holland, Pennsylvania, had graduated that May with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and signed up for the World Campus Alumni Ambassador program. She talked to prospective students about online learning and found out some adult learners are anxious about returning to school.

That was how Faerber was feeling. She started college after graduating high school in the 1980s, but returned home to run her family’s printing business after her father died. Over the years, Faerber didn’t need a college degree to find work in the printing industry.

A series of life changes and the decline of the printing industry made her rethink her priorities in 2013. She’d since remarried, moved to suburban Atlanta and, after a 20-year career in printing and sales, wanted to reinvent herself. She decided to go into organizational leadership, and a college degree would help her do that.

But first, Faerber had to choose a university and major, a decision she worried about. Through the Alumni Ambassador program, she connected with Mitterer twice to talk things over.

During their first conversation, which lasted two hours, Mitterer talked about why she chose Penn State World Campus and her major, and Faerber talked about her apprehensions about going back to school.

“I just felt like she and I kind of clicked,” Mitterer said.

The second time, after Faerber had been accepted, they talked about time management, registering for courses, and the ins and outs of online education.

“She had a lot of experience and wisdom,” Faerber said. “She was giving me sound advice. We just became friendly.”

Mitterer told Faerber to let her know if she could help with anything else in the future, and Faerber took her up on it.

“I called her up one day and asked her if she would consider being my mentor,” Faerber said. “I just thought I would step out on a limb and make the call. The worst that could happen was that she would say no.”

Mitterer was honored.

She helped Faerber plan a schedule to finish her course assignments each week. Her advice: Complete the more time-consuming assignments, such as writing papers, at the beginning of each week. Save the shorter assignments for the end of the week. Schedule time to decompress.

“We’re friends — I don’t feel like I’m doing anything special,” Mitterer said. “I’m just being myself. This is who I am. It just so happens that it’s really helping her.”

When classes are not in session, they still keep in touch. They text, they’re Facebook friends, and they’re looking forward to meeting someday.

Faerber plans to graduate in 2019, and her mentor wants to see her get her diploma.

“I couldn’t imagine not being there,” Mitterer said.

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about learning online.

Contacts: 

Mike Dawson

Work Phone: 
814-865-5818

408 The 329 Building, University Park, PA 16802

Last Updated April 17, 2017