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Student earns master's degree from UTA while living in Papua

Thursday, December 17, 2015 • Media Contact: Herb Booth

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It sounds like a “dog ate my homework” type of excuse.

“Shark wipes out Internet” couldn’t possibly be true for a student attending classes at The University of Texas at Arlington, which is located at least a full day’s drive from the nearest ocean.

Amber Harrington with husband Josh and daughter Kate

Amber Harrington is pictured with husband Josh and daughter Kate, at their Papua, Indonesia, home. Amber earned a Master of Education degree from UTA this month.

But for UTA student Amber Harrington, the fish story is true since she takes classes via the Internet while living in Papua, Indonesia, an island province about 8,000 miles from the Arlington campus.

UTA offers a robust, distance-learning program, with more than 20,000 students pursuing online degrees worldwide.

Amber completed her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in mathematics from UTA while living in Papua.

“Attempting to complete a 100 percent online degree while living in a third world country with an extremely unreliable Internet connection seems insane after examining the past 18 months,” Amber wrote in a blog post announcing her graduation to friends and family. Amber started work on her Master of Education in May 2014 when her daughter, Kate, was just six months old.

Amber grew up in Roanoke, Texas, and earned a Bachelor's of Science in Education from East Texas Baptist University. She and her husband moved to Papua in 2008, working with a nonprofit Christian organization. Amber was a middle school teacher at an international school in Papua. She always wanted to complete her master’s degree, but most of the online programs she researched were either too expensive or required at least one visit to campus.

“One day I was looking around for options for online master’s degrees and was directed to The University of Texas at Arlington’s website,” she wrote. “This was it – affordable, shorter than the average course, and 100 percent online.”

“The distance degree program UTA offers is perfect for those who are working full-time jobs or for others, like me, who live overseas,” she added. UTA’s program allowed Amber to maintain her Texas teachers’ certification, which is difficult while living in a developing country.

UTA’s Master of Education programs are intense. Individual classes were taught during a five-week period, with students receiving a one-week break in between. And it just so happened that the shark biting the fiber optic cable happened during one of Amber’s breaks from school. “The entire province lost access to the Internet,” she wrote, but service was “repaired to a trickle” the day her next class started.

Amber completed her studies in October. Her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Mathematics Education will be awarded Dec. 17.

“While I won’t be walking across the stage to accept my diploma, I will be opening up a precious can of Dr Pepper and celebrating with my family,” she wrote.

-- written by senior video producer Teresa Schnyder