Pandemic Silver Linings: How I Expanded My ‘Family’ and Advanced My Career Online


Diana Ruggiero, OLC IELOL Alumni; Associate Professor of Spanish at University of Memphis

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Growing up in Argentina, I never imagined I was going to be a professor in the U.S. I missed my country for many years and longed to reconnect with my family and friends. 

I heard people say, “It is not the same to see each other online as it is in person; you cannot connect virtually.” One can believe this is true. However, after the pandemic, we all know how much humans can connect online. Exploring new ways to connect to my family led me to dive into similar experiences in my professional life, and I quickly realized these virtual worlds were much larger and more bountiful than I expected. 

Exploring Virtual Connections

Whether it is on Zoom or social media, we all managed to do most of the same things we did face-to-face, but online. Not only that, I was able to connect with my family and friends in Argentina. I felt like they were next door. This was especially meaningful for them since, during the quarantine, they were unable to even see each other living in the same building!

OLC has created a virtual space to welcome everyone, and they had the foresight to create such a space and the ability to do so even before the pandemic. However, some people only started to appreciate it as a result of the quarantine and “safer-at-home” social-distancing measures. I am thankful to be one of them. It’s better late than never! 

As I embraced the opportunities presented by OLC and emerging technologies in teaching and learning, I decided to enroll in  The Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL). It is a completely unique experience that connects you with peers in many different ways, all with the goal of improving the field of online education and giving it the value it deserves. 

Finding a Family in IELOL

I was so lucky to complete the 2021 cohorts for both IELOL (ASU) and IELOL Global. First up was the IELOL Pre-Immersion (Online), which had so many activities and ways to prepare for the entire program. The main part of the experience was a Hyflex Experience (on-site at ASU or Virtual), where we worked in groups and also had a mentor. Then we had a Post-Immersion Project (Online) where we all presented. 

IELOL has changed me forever. I never saw myself as a leader. This opportunity not only provided me with that title, but also the ability to create a project with two other amazing colleagues in an area that was new and challenging for us.  Together, it was a success thanks to our mentor who guided us every step of the way (Garvey Pyke). As leaders, we need to be challenged and have the opportunity to succeed, one step at a time.

IELOL Global was a transforming experience for many reasons. We connected with people all over the globe, and it was incredible to work with so many and think in different ways.

The questions asked by the invited mentors and the ability to work to create an impactful cross-institutional/regional project were unique. We worked with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, for a better and more sustainable future. We discussed global challenges like poverty, inequality, the environment, and more. My group focused on health, and we created a virtual platform on how to provide better health practices to everyone. 

I have to give a huge shoutout to Maddie Shellgren, Director, Online Engagement at OLC, who made the experience incredible. Her leadership skills are out of this world, and her engagement strategies are brilliant, especially when she conducted a synchronic section. She listened to herself and modeled how to listen for us, included everyone in the conversation, reached out to all the participants, and provided thought-provoking exercises and activities to challenge our worldview. 

My life and career will never be the same because of OLC and the IELOL and IELOL Global programs. I hope to be the kind of leader Maddie is. She is a teacher and role model to many of us. English is my second language and I learned many expressions of inclusivity from Maddie that I use today in my daily life and in my classes.

For example, I have questioned the concepts of “family” and “home” and deconstructed them. Family is the group of people who makes you feel that you belong and that you are safe, no matter what your DNA may say. In both OLC and IELOL programs, I also found a home. Home does not have to “be” in one place, and I felt that I was meant to find this community of acceptance and belonging among the OLC and IELOL programs and participants. OLC happens to be not only my family, but my safe home. 

I also have to express my gratitude to Dr. Scott Vann at the University of Memphis, who introduced me to OLC. I have learned so much, applied so much, and connected with so many across the globe and in the U.S. I see myself today as a virtual professional. I do not let geographical boundaries determine whom I will connect with. Now, I know the world is reachable, and I am connected to it. I am here to share my story and connect with you, and I am happy to share more in the future! This is just the beginning. 

Note from the editor: Learn more about IELOL’s cohort-based professional development program in a free webinar on February 16. Designed for new and experienced leaders in the field of digital and online learning, this webinar will provide an overview of IELOL and its faculty, the four phases, time commitment, program objectives, and participant experience.

Applications for the 2022 IELOL Cohort are due by April 29.

Interested in getting your institution more involved? We’re currently seeking an academic partner for the 2023 and 2024 IELOL programs. The deadline for proposals has been extended to February 28, 2022.

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