EDGE program facilitates graduate studies globally

In Engineering Education, News by Emily Stanton

For William Huffman, engineering is more than his chosen career path. It’s the pursuit that has led him across the globe.

He utilized his civil engineering degree by joining the Peace Corps, a calling that brought him to Kenya in 1976 designing and installing community water systems. Thirty-four years later, it brought Huffman and his wife, Ruth, to Mali and then Cameroon to work with small business entrepreneurs on strengthening the economy and moving past foreign aid.

And he’s a Florida Gator.

Huffman earned his master’s degree in environmental engineering and sciences Dec. 17, 2013, from the University of Florida via the online program Electronic Delivery of Gator Engineering, EDGE, while serving overseas.

“EDGE’s flexibility and worldwide availability allowed me to simultaneously achieve my professional goal of an advanced degree while pursuing my personal goal of a more meaningful life,” Huffman said.

As one of the earliest engineering distance learning programs, EDGE sets the technological standard for online graduate education. Established 1964 under the name GENESYS, the program used televisions, telephones, microphones, phonographs and cable for distance learning across Florida. It evolved along with technology and caught the attention and usage of NASA.

Now, the program can be utilized internationally.

While stationed in Mali, Huffman would leave his post in a small Sahelian village twice a month to travel a couple of hours to the regional capital where the Peace Corps maintained a stage house. With a more reliable connection, he would download two weeks’ worth of class materials and return to the village the next day.

Huffman was one of many seeking alternative means for graduate education with Gator Engineering. About 650 people across the world purse higher learning through EDGE per year. Students determine their class load for each semester, electing to take as many or as little classes as they choose – an ideal for active military, working professionals and those with families, according to EDGE Director Pamela Dickrell.

Providing EDGE benefits everyone at UF, Dickrell said. Distance students have the opportunity to continue their education on their own time, while on-campus students and staff gain a new perspective from class discussions with those already in the industry. Students like Huffman, whose 40 years of engineering entrepreneurship in addition to his work abroad, shed new light on academic concepts.

The program is similar to a non-thesis graduate degree.

EDGE students and non-thesis graduate students take the same 10 courses. Campus-based students attend lectures that are filmed for distance students. Fifteen minutes after class the video is posted online. Assignments and exams are administered online.

“They watch the same lectures; they do the same assignments; they take the same exams,” Dickrell said. “Their certification and degree is the exact same.”

EDGE is also an opportunity to refine engineering skill sets.

For Huffman – whose undergraduate and graduate education had a three-decade gap – it was a chance to learn the latest technology.

EDGE exposed him to modern calculation and presentation software that he had been too busy to learn during his work-a-day vocational pursuits, Huffman said.

“Many are inspired to return to graduate school to augment their value to the global community and to themselves,” Huffman said. “With a modest paycheck and EDGE flexibility, they can live comfortably, pay down old loans and get their advanced degree.”