Get to Know Sierra Duncan, English ’23

Online English Student Sierra Duncan
Sierra Duncan

I had been worried that being an online student may be a bit anonymous and impersonal. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth in my experience. I received personal feedback on my assignments that helped me grow and improve.

About Duncan

Sierra works a remote editorial job and completed course work toward her degree in the evenings. She enjoys volunteering with the youth division of a local recreational sports team, hiking, brushing up on Spanish and finishing her yoga instructor certification.

Tell us about your student journey.

“I took classes at my local community college during 2012-2014, but due to family responsibilities, I focused on working full-time and caring for my grandmother. I wanted to finish my education, but it was difficult to find evening classes at college that fit my work schedule and would allow me to graduate in a reasonable amount of time.

“After researching, I found the online program at UMass Lowell, which was exactly what I was looking for. I could take on a full-time course load each semester and graduate in less than three years as a transfer student. I could balance my personal responsibilities with my education, and I knew I would be graduating from a respected institution. It made sense!”

How would you describe your experience at UMass Lowell?

“Immediately, I had a wonderful experience at UMass Lowell! The first time I called for information, I was treated in such a welcoming and friendly manner that set the tone for the rest of my experience as a student. The advisors I have worked with always were attentive and prepared to discuss the best course load for me.

“Also, and very importantly, I felt I was receiving just as valuable an education as I would on-campus. Each course I have taken has left me with valuable knowledge and skills.

“I feel I have built traditional scholarly relationships with my professors. I am fortunate to have taken Dr. Pruett’s classes for all but my last semester. And Dr. Shrieves, Dr. Silverman and Professor Drake were kind enough to write me a letter of recommendation for graduate school in December 2022.”

What advice to succeed would you share with other students in the program?

“Reach out to your professors and make the most of the discussion board. The English Department isn’t as large as it may seem from the perspective of an online student, and you’ll find you may take the same professors in subsequent semesters or recognize classmates from previous ones. Building these connections and bonds is nice, especially with fellow students. Being an online student can be an isolating experience in some ways, so it’s nice to interact with others who share your interests as English majors and as online students.”

In particular, what is your advice to other online students?

“Use UMass Lowell’s resources! There are a ton of resources available to us such as online tutoring, career support such as Handshake for internship and job opportunities or UML Connect for networking, and counseling. Online students have access to a lot of valuable tools, which I found amazing.”

How do you balance school with other responsibilities?

“Every week, I would write out a bulleted list of my assignments for each class, keeping track of special due dates. I generally had a week to get everything done so I would schedule time every evening to complete the shorter assignments, study and work on the more extensive assignments, such as essays. Writing everything down on one page for each class allowed me to see how many bigger projects I had that required more time dedication throughout the week, or if I had a lighter week of assignments to work with.”

What have you gained from studying English?

“An appreciation for the oxford comma! Also, for the many aspects that come with studying it as a whole. There of course is the grammar part, and there is this great vast history of the origin of the English language, which is fascinating. I loved the class History of the English Language with Dr. Shrieves that explores that subject.

“Finally, there is the analyzing and critique of literature and I feel that my education has really changed how I view a work as I’m reading it. I’ve grown through the insights of my professors and classmates through lectures, feedback and discussion board posts.”

What are your favorite courses you’ve completed?

“So many! I mentioned History of the English Language with Dr. Shrieves. Also, Writing a Book with Dr. Silverman and Monsters, Apes & Nightmares with Dr. Avery. I also loved Short Story with Dr. Szczesiul, American Women Novelists with Dr. Pruett and Psychology & Women with Professor Drake.

“I could go on. However, I really did have a positive experience in each of my classes! My final semester I took Introduction to HTML with Professor Dubie and Nutrition and Wellness with Professor Barrile and I loved them.”

What are your pleasure reading recommendations?

“One of my absolute favorite books is Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann, so I always recommend it! My other book recommendation I learned about in my Short Story class with Dr. Szczesiul. Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders.  I also recommend the authors Lorrie Moore, David Sedaris, Carmen Maria Machado, Audre Lorde, Sandra Cisneros and Jessica Knoll.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“I love to go on hikes, do yoga and Pilates and go running. Especially now that the weather is getting warmer. I also both read and write a lot, and love to explore museums and libraries. Though this may be unsurprising for an English major.”

What are your plans for after graduation?

“I plan on spending this summer exploring different hiking trails and reading a lot of books. I will be starting the online Master of Library and Information Science program at Simmons University. My ultimate goal for many years has been to be a public librarian and to promote literature within my community, which is what UMass Lowell helped me in working toward.”

Interested in learning more? Explore UMass Lowell’s online Bachelor of Arts in English.