Brenda Peterson, of Forman, N.D., drives to Fargo one night a week in pursuit of a lifelong goal. The 32-year-old wife and mother is working toward an undergraduate degree at Fargo’s University of Mary School for Accelerated and Distance Education.
Peterson, an office deputy for the Sargent County Sheriff’s Department, is not after the degree for a promotion or a raise. She wants the satisfaction of finishing what she started more than 10 years ago when she attended two quarters at the University of Minnesota-Crookston. “I want to know that I completed my undergraduate degree,” Peterson said.
With a full-time job and a family, Peterson is like many other students in the U of Mary program who say attending class one night a week allows them to fit school into their busy lives. “This is the only way I could do it,” Peterson said.
The University of Mary, with its main campus in Bismarck, launched the School for Accelerated and Distance Education with sites in Fargo and Bismarck 10 years ago. Now the program is offered in 16 sites in five states, as well as online. About 900 students are enrolled, with about 380 of them attending at the Fargo center, which is in the Butler Building at 1351 Page Drive.
Director Brenda Anderson Kaspari said the School of Accelerated and Distance Education serves a niche that isn’t being served elsewhere in Fargo-Moorhead. “We serve a particular need for particular students,” she said.
The accelerated undergraduate and graduate programs can be completed in 15 to 18 months. Students take one evening class at a time for five weeks. They stay with the same group of students as they work through the program.
“You work much harder, but you’re focusing on one class at a time,” said Debra McGinty, Fargo area coordinator.
Students are primarily working professionals, ranging in age from 20 on up. The average age in the undergraduate program is 31 and average age for the graduate program is 34. More than half of the graduates receive at least partial tuition reimbursement from an employer.
The university is Catholic, but less than 50 percent of University of Mary students are Catholic, Kaspari said. The Benedictine values – community, hospitality, service, moderation, respect for persons and prayer – are posted in each classroom, and staff try to treat people with those values, she said. “We do look at it as a privilege to serve every single person,” Kaspari said. “They are the most important thing.” InForum News