Distance graduate student Sam Edelstein in front of his office on the Syracuse University campus. Despite working a few hundred feet from the iSchool's home in Hinds Hall, Edelstein is completing his degree online.

By: Diane Stirling
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The distance-format master’s degree program in information management has been an excellent fit for graduate student Samuel Edelstein, even if he spends most days just a short walk away from the School of Information Studies’ home on the Syracuse University campus.

As assistant director of alumni relations for the University, Sam can see the iSchool from his Goldstein Faculty and Alumni Center office next to Bird Library. Regardless, he takes all of his graduate courses online and recently completed his first one-week summer residency. The distance IM master’s offered the flexibility he needed to manage a full-time job that requires a fair amount of travel, and helping his wife raise their 18-month old daughter.     

Sam earned his undergraduate degree in 2007 in economics and policy studies with a minor in political science. After graduation, he taught English language skills for a year at a middle school in Korea; was a research assistant for ICF International; served as a project and operations manager at Sacandaga Consulting and Communications; and worked as a communications associate in new media for Cultural Tourism in Washington, D.C.

When he decided to go for a graduate degree, he knew the program would have to work around his job and family duties. Those commitments “made it difficult to envision sitting in a classroom for a specific amount of time every couple of days,” Edelstein recalled. When he looked at master’s programs at other schools, “they just didn’t have an online option, or if they did, it wasn’t enough to cover the degree.”

Not only is the iSchool’s information management program “something that prepares me well for what a lot of people are concerned about for the next 30 to 40 years,” its high degree of flexibility was an attractive factor, Sam said. “I think just having the type of courses that are interesting to me was a real pull to enroll in the IM program. But there’s really no other program on campus where I could have that degree of flexibility. This seemed like something that I could finish in a reasonable number of years, and really take something away that would be valuable.” Edelstein also is earning a specialized certificate of advanced studies in data science through the distance program.

Online classes are an adjustment from those previously taken in the classroom, Sam admits. “I actually find that I read a lot more than I did as an undergrad because you don’t have the lecture; so I have to read to know what’s going on. I think I’m getting more of the details than I would have gotten in an in-person class.”

He found the recent one-week summer residency to be a valuable experience for its exposure to his online classmates. It “reminded me what it’s like to be a student; that I’m not just alone on my computer reading message boards. I got to meet some of the people who I might be talking to online and get a sense of what they’re interested in doing,” he observed. “Being able to actually meet them and get a sense of their excitement for the program and where they think they can go, it was a great use of the week, even though it was intense.”

Edelstein has recognized how the IM program puts an emphasis on managing and building yourself to manage, Sam said. “I’ve learned in a lot of classes that it’s important to know how things work, it’s important for you to be in a team knowing how the work happens, but you don’t’ have to be the one who’s sitting there writing the code. But to be able to look at the bigger picture and say, ‘Here’s how our technical resources could help what you’re trying to do,’ that’s important. And that’s what’s most exciting to me about the whole program. It’s all-encompassing that way.”

Sam is pleased with his progress and with how he has been able to mesh his personal, professional, and educational responsibilities. “The iSchool is a leader in so many ways, offering online classes, pushing the envelope forward, being on the cutting edge. When I first applied, one of the first things [I was told] is that the degree was worth the same whether it was an online degree or in person, and that’s totally true. I haven’t taken a class in person, but it’s been rigorous work. Comparing it to undergrad, it’s been hard work, where I’ve learned a lot. I’m definitely not coasting, but it’s also not so different and difficult that it’s not manageable.”