Logo: University of Southern California

A Distant Commencement

May 16, 2003 —
A Distant Commencement at USC Engineering
Distance Learning Student Makes First Visit to Campus to
Receive a Diploma

On Friday May 16, David Rocheleau will do something he has never done in his three years as a graduate student in the University of Southern California School of Engineering. He will set foot on the USC campus.
Rocheleau, an employee of the Boeing Company, will be flying in to Los Angeles from his home in Mesa, AZ to put on the traditional mortarboard and gown and walk in commencement ceremonies at USC's University Park C campus to receive a Masters Degree in System Architecture and Engineering.
"I'm coming because my family is coming out and wants to see me get my degree," said the 27-year-old father of two.
Rocheleau did all the work for the degree back home in Mesa, attending lectures placed on the World Wide Web via a computer browser, turning in homework by e-mail, conferring with fellow students via chatrooms and phone, and sitting for proctored examinations at his Arizona workplace.
He is one of more than 100 USC engineering students who will receive advanced degree programs Friday for studies pursued through the School's Distance Education Network (DEN), one of the most successful programs of its kind in the nation.
Under Dean C.L. Max Nikias, USC Engineering has been expanding DEN. Now, more than 800 students, most of them employees of well-known companies including, Aerojet, Aerospace Corp., Ericsson, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Intel, JPL, Lockheed Martin, Motorola, NASA, Northrop Grumman (including the former TRW corporation), Qualcomm, Raytheon, SAIC and United Technologies Corp, in addition to Boeing, are studying for advanced degrees.
"Students can learn at a top-10 Engineering School, while continuing their careers," said Nikias. "It's good for the students, and good for their employers, who can improve the skills of their work force."
Last May, 99 students earned USC Masters Degrees via DEN. The exact number this year will not be known until Friday, but more than 100 degrees are set to be awarded - mostly to students who will only watch the ceremony via the Internet, the same way they took their classes.
As of the semester that just concluded, DEN offered 14 master’s degree programs in engineering, with more than 75 classes available via the Internet. In fall, the School will add six more, including a program in computer security, one of the first of its kind in the nation. The School will also open the Internet classes to on-campus graduate students.
"We're going to offer free access to all the DEN classes to our on-campus graduate students," said Nikias. "Students have been asking for this access. It is a great way for them to review lectures."
DEN Executive Director Kelly Goulis emphasizes that DEN degrees have the full faith and credit of USC Engineering, ranked number eight in the nation in the most recent US News & World Report rankings.
"All DEN students must meet the same requirements as on-campus students. They must complete the same class assignments in the same time period. They must pass proctored examinations administered in their cities simultaneously with exams on campus."
Goulis said the success of the program has been due to a number of factors, including USC's heavy investment in both technology and personnel. Apart from faculty, DEN has 20 employees dedicated to all aspects of the process, from technical staff who ensure classes are on the web on time, to counselors who work with students on their educational programs and if necessary act as their representatives with USC administration and financial aid.
"We have made DEN a priority," said Nikias, "and we believe it is now working for USC, for our students like David, and for employers like Boeing."
What does Rocheleau think? "It was excellent. Between my responsibilities on the job, my business travel and my family, it was the only way I could have done it."
His main worry now? "I've never been on campus. I'm afraid I'm going to get lost."
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Editor’s Note: The ceremony for USC School of Engineering Master’s and Doctoral degree candidates takes place in Archimedes Plaza beginning at 2:30 p.m. and running until approximately 4 p.m.
Contact: Eric Mankin mankin@usc.edu and 310/448-9112 or 213/821-1887