Educate to Elevate Students Answer the Challenge of Virtual Learning

Image Of Educate To Elevate Open House
An open house was held Oct. 29, 2019 where interested employees could learn more about Educate to Elevate and meet with representatives from Stark State College and The University of Akron. Nearly 60 employees attended the event.

Going back to school while working full time is a difficult task made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic as traditional classrooms have transitioned to virtual environments.

FirstEnergy employees enrolled in the company’s Educate to Elevate program are poised to successfully complete their first year of college coursework this December despite these challenges.

The program, which started its inaugural semester earlier this year, allows employees to attend business and information technology courses taught by college professors after work hours at FirstEnergy facilities. Participants who complete and pass one course every eight weeks can earn an associate degree in four years, with the option to complete another four years to acquire a bachelor’s degree.

Sixteen participants are currently enrolled as part of the initial student group. They had just finished their first eight weeks of in-person classes at FirstEnergy’s Center for Advanced Energy Technology building before they transitioned to online learning due to COVID-19 preventive measures.

“The pandemic has changed the format of our program significantly,” said Wally Hartory, project manager for Educate to Elevate. “However, our students have risen to the occasion, exceeded expectations and proven they are very motivated and able to adapt to a virtual setting. They’re working as hard as ever to complete their coursework, and I’m proud of the progress they’ve made so far.”

Though the transition to working and learning virtually presents its obstacles, employees like customer service associate Kyle Zuchniewicz have adjusted to keep coursework manageable.

“Working full time and taking college classes is difficult, but FirstEnergy and Stark State College are doing their best to make it as simple as possible,” said Zuchniewicz. “Being in a class with coworkers is a big benefit of the program. Everyone is going through some of the same challenges you are experiencing, and you can reach out to them for help.”

With their first year of coursework almost complete, employees who are part of the inaugural Educate to Elevate class say their experience has been worthwhile – stretching them to grow, expand their knowledge base and collaborate with their peers.

“I had been considering school for a while but wasn’t sure how it would work out while working full time,” said customer service associate Anaise Rafford, who considers the program setup a perfect fit. “I would highly recommend it to others.”

Educate to Elevate is currently available to FirstEnergy employees in the Akron area through a partnership with Stark State College and The University of Akron, with a goal of helping FirstEnergy develop a highly skilled workforce of the future through pursuit of a college degree. In early 2021, FirstEnergy will be expanding the program to portions of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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Last Modified: October 29, 2020