FIU News: Fully-online student hasn’t let distance hinder global learning experience

Aleta Neilson hasn’t let being a fully-online student stop her from being involved with campus life and global learning at FIU.

Neilson currently serves on the executive board of a student organization, Slow Food FIU, and the leadership committee for the university’s Peace Corps Prep program. She’s already completed FIU’s Academy of Leaders. And she is on track to be one of the first online students to earn the Global Learning Medallion. The medallion serves as an extra honor for students who go above and beyond the two-course Global Learning requirement that prepares FIU’s students to be global citizens.

Studying sociology and anthropology, with a minor in psychology, Neilson pursued a degree from FIU Online after her nursing career came to an end due to a physical injury, which ultimately resulted in homelessness.

Despite living in North Florida, Neilson takes full advantage of global learning clubs and organizations.

She earned her associate’s degree (prior to coming to FIU) while still living in her car, and was inducted into National Society of Collegiate Scholars with a 4.0. Wanting to complete her bachelor’s, Neilson was thrilled to learn that accredited, prominent institutions were starting to offer more robust fully-online programs. She was drawn to FIU, and was happy to learn that she would be able to attend from her home in North Florida.

“Some prestigious academic institutions that spoke with me, including a well-known Ivy League university, didn’t fully admit women to undergraduate programs until after FIU was open,” she said. This was important to her personally, as she strongly supports gender and racial equity. Some members of her family did not support her childhood goal of being a pediatrician because of her gender.

Neilson’s involvement in university activities started when one of her professors, Archibald Kincaid, took notice of how she stood out in his social theory class by helping other students in her group projects use library resources and learn to cite sources properly.

Kincaid invited Neilson to be part of Slow Food FIU, which promotes food that is good, clean and fair to people and the environment. She took the role of marketing and communications coordinator. Neilson is also a member of Student Alliance for Prison Reform (SAPR), Student Alliance Fighting Exploitation (SAFE) and anti-human trafficking group.

Two of the FIU Global Learning programs Neilson is in did not fully accommodate fully-online students prior to the 2016-17 academic year. While online students could sign up for the Global Learning Medallion, there was a requirement ,for example, to attend on-campus events, which was prohibitive to students outside of Miami. She was, however, able to do Academy of Leaders (AOL), one of the first FIU involvement opportunities that could be done fully online.

“[AOL advisor Sabrena O’Keefe] was wonderful, and you can do things at your own pace so you don’t have to choose between finishing the program and classwork. One of the great things about this leadership program is that it helps you bring out the leader inside others, too,” Neilson said.

Based on enthusiastic feedback from online students who recognized the importance of gaining the knowledge and skills for global citizenship, the Office of Global Learning Initiatives and FIU Online collaborated to launch a fully-online complement to the medallion program in Blackboard. Fully online students must fulfill all of the same requirements to earn the medallion, but can now attend virtual events as well as those in the communities where they live.

Neilson hopes to start her own student club in the fall, with the support of a new initiative out of Campus Life at Biscayne Bay Campus that aims to involve online students in starting and joining clubs remotely. Her club will focus on saving dolphins by raising awareness about marine conservation, including through art.

This environmental work is also the focus of Neilson’s global engagement project in the Peace Corps Prep program. Peace Corps Prep prepares FIU students who want to eventually join the Peace Corps, a federal agency that sends American volunteers abroad for two years to help with social and economic development. As the Global Engagement Coordinator for the program, Neilson both mentors a group of five newer Peace Corps Prep students and helps to develop service-learning opportunities for all members of the program.

For Neilson a highlight of being an online student is that “you get to know people for whom they really are inside, their mind and spirit, enabling people to value each other for more than their just external appearances.”

– By Eric Feldman

Online students interested in getting involved with global learning can visit the Global Learning website or contact Eric Feldman, OGLI coordinator, at

Honors College Faculty and former FIU Online Educational Technology Manager.