Online learning gives a woman a second chance to become an engineer

“When I attended the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), marine engineering was an interest. I wanted to work on ships. But it was a very male-dominated school and major, and it was a little intimidating for me when I was eighteen,” Alexis Slade, a member of the first female class at VMI, disclosed.

“In that environment, I was insecure,” she added. “I didn’t really have a lot of guidance from anyone telling me that I could succeed if I worked hard. There were no mentors or tutors to help me.”

So Alexis decided to major in psychology. She graduated, held several jobs in law enforcement and administration, and had a family. But she wasn’t fulfilled. “I felt that I was missing out on something,” she explained. “It just kept bothering me that I never had the opportunity to go into engineering back when I was at VMI and to follow my dream. Finally, after not being happy and satisfied in job after job, I decided that I was going to go back to school so that I could get the education and training that I needed to go into an engineering field.”

Alexis enrolled in Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Iowa to earn her pre-engineering requirements. “When I started at DMACC, I tried to take as many online courses as possible,” explained Alexis, who was juggling school, family, and work. For both her online and face-to-face classes, she soon came to rely on online learning tools to help her succeed.

For her online environmental science and physics courses, Alexis used Smarthinking, an online tutoring and essay review service, to improve her research papers. “Smarthinking got the papers back to me very quickly,” she commented. “Every time I sent a paper in, the person would send it back to me not just saying, ‘Change this or change that.’ He or she would explain what error I had made, like excessive comma use. That made me research what the error meant, so I knew not to make that mistake in the future. It was an educational tool, not just a review and edit of my paper.”

Alexis used another online learning tool in her face-to-face college algebra class. “When I went back to school, I had to brush up on my math, and I couldn’t follow my professor,” she explained. “She went at a very fast speed. But she utilized MyMathLab,® so I used it as a teaching tool.” The tool allowed Alexis to learn at her own pace and helped her earn an A in the class.

I wouldn’t have received as good a grade as I did if I didn’t have MyMathLab.


She also used an online learning tool, MasteringChemistryTM, in her general and organic chemistry courses. “The eText was fantastic because our textbooks are so big and I travel around a lot. So having the eText available whenever I needed it was very valuable.”

The online learning tools helped Alexis succeed in her courses. She was recently accepted to Iowa State University and will begin studying agricultural engineering with a specialization in land and water at the university this fall. After she earns her engineering degree, her dream is to work for NASA, helping the agency locate safe water sources on Mars.