In the Classroom

Online Student

Online Student Finds Community on Campus
by Amanda Mayotte ’15 

Terry Jones ’18 MA had three simple requirements in his search for an online degree: He wanted to enroll with a nonprofit university, join a regionally accredited program, and earn a master’s in criminal justice. Mount Mercy made the list. 

"I’m skeptical by nature,” Terry Jones ’18 MA says. “I checked MMU’s accreditation, looked for complaints online, and pulled up satellite images to ensure it was real. I hate to admit that I wasn’t very concerned about quality initially. I wanted the degree, and I wanted it quickly.”

“I was moved by the idea that this small university was doing more for people than the larger community college and universities I attended previously,” says Terry Jones ’18 MA. “In fact, it does more than many organizations whose only purpose is service.” 

After speaking with MMU staff about the program and learning he could finish his degree in just 15 months, Jones, the vice president of operations at Teachout Security Solutions, started the online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program in February 2017.

“Once I began the program, I found the content to be exceptional. I was learning a great deal and, to my surprise, it was extremely energizing and motivating. It may sound like an overstatement, but I was stunned by the education I received. Professors weren’t just accessible, they initiated a great deal of contact.”

Although engaged in classes, Jones didn’t have a direct connection to campus—until he read that MMU students volunteered at a Detroit homeless shelter. As a Flint, Michigan, resident himself, Jones felt a spark.

“I went from an abstract idea about this place in Iowa that really didn’t matter much beyond the fact I was going to get a degree to, ‘Wait, they were in Detroit painting at a nonprofit?’” he says. “I was a little upset because I didn’t know MMU students would be there—I would have painted too!”

That led to more awareness of MMU’s mission. “I was moved by the idea that this small university was doing more for people than the larger community college and universities I attended previously. In fact, it does more than many organizations whose only purpose is service.”

Jones decided to reach out, responding to non-course-related emails and asking questions. “I got to know a lot of great people and began to understand MMU’s mission.” 

He then took the next step in supporting the initiatives that meant the most to him. He donated to the Criminal Justice Club, Mustang Market food pantry, and  #HaveMercyGiveMercy development campaign, and sponsored students on a volunteer trip to Houston.

Then, in April 2018, Jones was at a conference in Chicago. Knowing he was only four hours from Mount Mercy—rather than the usual seven and a half—Jones jumped at the opportunity, rented a car, and drove to Cedar Rapids.

“By the time I visited campus, I was pretty hooked on MMU,” he says. “The night before my scheduled visit, I drove through the campus and around the neighborhood. It reminded me a great deal of the neighborhood I grew up in.”

The next day, Jones took a tour of campus and met with Professor Amanda Humphrey, director of the Master’s in Criminal Justice program, and Jamarco Clark ’18 MSL

“My visit reinforced how the university’s culture is one of service,” Jones says. “A large donation for the Mustang Market arrived while I was there. I heard a small group of students in a hallway talking about a service project in Cedar Rapids. This wasn’t window dressing or isolated instances. There were clearly visible indications of a selfless service culture.”

Humphrey says it’s important to her to get across the values of the Sisters of Mercy to her online students and show them what being a student at Mount Mercy truly means.

“I always try to weave the critical concerns and the idea of Mercy into the classes,” she says. “Because I teach criminal justice, that’s pretty easy to do—there are a lot of issues related to social justice and Mercy that need to be addressed.”

Humphrey also says it’s easy for students to come into the program with specific ideas about criminal justice, but it’s her job to help them embrace different ideas and perspectives.

“My job is not to change people’s minds about issues,” Humphrey says. “My job is to provide students with opportunities to explore different perspectives. So, for Terry to come out of the program with his eyes a little wider and perspective broader, that’s all we can ask for at the end of the day.”

Now, as an MMU graduate, Jones plans to never fully retire. He is considering earning a teaching degree to teach high school in an underserved community, hopes to use his degree to teach at the collegiate level, and plans to stay connected to MMU as a member of the Alumni Association.

Online Learning Opportunities at MMU

In an era shaped by technology, it may not be surprising to learn that, in 2016, more than 30 percent of students in higher education were enrolled in at least one online course.* Online learning allows for more flexibility and convenience than traditional face-to-face courses. 

Mount Mercy launched its first online programs in Fall 2013. The university now offers 10 undergraduate and graduate programs.