The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type




Degree Name

Higher Education Administration: Ed.D.


Educational Administration and Higher Education


School of Education

First Advisor

Rachel E. Friedensen

Second Advisor

Brittany M. Williams

Third Advisor

Steven L. McCullar

Fourth Advisor

Melissa B. Hanzsek-Brill

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

STEM, online education, phenomenology, undergraduate, RCU


Many institutions of higher education in the United States, and, indeed, around the world, are feeling multi-faceted pressures to offer course content through online delivery modes. Administrators of institutions of higher education often view such delivery as a way to raise revenue and reduce costs for the institution while also often offering students flexibility to learn at their own pace. Still, many students and faculty alike often also encounter challenges with online delivery. In this phenomenological qualitative study, I explored the positive and negative experiences of undergraduate STEM majors who had taken at least one major-required, STEM-focused, class delivered entirely online. Using a semi-structured interview format, I interviewed twenty-three undergraduate STEM majors at a mid-sized, public, four-year Regional Comprehensive University. Students described their learning experiences, which I then analyzed for emergent themes. The majority of participants reported feelings of isolation and loneliness in their classes, owing, primarily, to a lack of opportunity to interact with their peers in substantial ways. This study’s findings align with previous research suggesting that best practices for online synchronous and asynchronous instruction include giving students opportunities to learn collaboratively with peers and interact regularly with their professors.


This study would not have been possible had it not been for the students who shared their voices and experiences with me. Nor would it have been possible without my own students, who were always an inspiration to me and a bright spot to look to when times were rough. I thank them all, wholeheartedly.
Additionally, I wish to thank Dr. Rachel Friedensen, my research advisor and committee chair; her guidance, suggestions, and constructive feedback made this dissertation possible. Thank you for your patience, grace, and helpful formatting corrections. Sorry for all the double-spaces after the periods.
Thank you to my committee members, Dr. Brittany Williams, Dr. Steven McCullar, and Dr. Melissa Hanzsek-Brill, for reading my work as well as providing constructive feedback throughout the entire process. Thank you, as well, for your guidance and encouragement.
Thank you to the office managers at LLU, who assisted me in collecting data necessary to send recruitment emails to student participants.
Thank you, especially, to colleagues at my own institution, especially colleagues from my home department (Tony, Alan, Bob, Jean, Kate, Rod, Andrea, Henry, Coleman, Matt, Sarah, Wenjie, and Mitch), whose tireless cheerleading and words of, “The finish line is right around the corner!” kept me going even during days when it seemed impossible.
Thank you to my family back in New York (Andy, Betsy, Jamesy, Charlotte, Alec, Francesca); though we don’t often get to see each other, you’re never far from my heart or mind. Thank you, also, to my Mom (Barbara), Grandfather (Alex), and Grandmother (Mildred), who are no longer here but who also have never been far from my heart or mind throughout this whole dissertation.
Thank you to the SCSU Library, whose librarians provided guidance and assistance with obtaining access to scholarly journals and sources – even (especially) the “seemingly very obscure” ones.
Thank you to the countless formal and informal science communicators I have met during the course of this program. I am so very lucky to call you friends and colleagues. To Liz, Jason, Kris, Agus, Cait, Steph, Ryan, Katie, Letti, Jojo, Ariel, Toni, Erica, Britt, Ellise, and Jaida, your humor has kept me going this whole time. I look forward to future collaborations with you now that this little “side project” is done.
Thank you to my Cohort 11 classmates for your support and friendship, and thank you, as well, to the faculty of the Higher Education Administration faculty. To Rhonda, Tara, Stephanie, Marah, Qiwei, Sohee, Gary, Alek, Loralyn, I have learned so much from all of you and I am honored to have experienced this program with you.
Thank you to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, whose research is changing lives every day.
Thank you to the folks at the St. Cloud, MN American Red Cross workers (Mandy, Ashlyn, Ali, Paul, Freedom, Cole, Sarah, Taylor, Jeramy, Michael, and countless others) who provided the perfect environment for me to collect my thoughts during routine apheresis sessions during the last year of this dissertation.
Finally, thank you to dogs all over the world; you make life infinitely better. Woof.



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