Walden University student Hollis Easter describes how his MS in Instructional Design and Technology program helped him save business-sustaining funds at a nonprofit crisis intervention hotline.

Hollis Easter

PROGRAM: MS in Instructional Design and Technology with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement

WHERE I WORK: Reachout of St. Lawrence County, a nonprofit 24-hour crisis intervention, information, and referral hotline in Potsdam, N.Y., that handles more than 28,000 calls a year.

WHAT I DO: As hotline coordinator, I teach volunteers to care for everyone who calls. I show them how to handle everything from suicide and domestic violence to people who can’t buy fuel to heat their houses.

WHAT INSPIRES ME: I still remember taking my first call on the hotline when I was 18 years old. I listened for nearly six hours as a suicidal man shared his sorrow, pain, and grief with me—things he had never told anyone before. I’ll always treasure his message the next day, “Thank you to the volunteer who saved my life last night.” It’s a really powerful reminder of why this work matters and why it’s important to get it right.

HOW I WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Having grown up in a rural area, I’m very committed to acting locally. I want to use the skills I’m learning at Walden to make our training more effective, and I want to help raise awareness about the value of distance education.

WHY I’M PURSUING MY DEGREE: I attended a top-notch liberal arts college for my bachelor’s degree. When I decided to pursue my master’s, I wanted to see if a distance-learning degree program could be as effective. The answer is “Yes!” I can immediately apply what I’m learning.

WHEN I STUDY: I usually study from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. and on the weekends. Flexibility is key since my work at the hotline can come calling at any hour, day or night. There are always one to five volunteers on the hotline, and I’m always on backup duty if they need help.

HOW I MANAGE MY TIME: I spend a lot of time in the car. Thanks to Walden’s MobileLearnSM, I can download lectures, upload them to my iPod, and listen to them while I’m driving.

HOW WALDEN HAS HELPED ME: When a major funder for the hotline angrily threatened to cut our program, I used it as an opportunity to teach. I built and delivered a brief training program—in less than two days—to explain our position. Thanks to the training I received at Walden, I was able to teach our funders what we do, the reality of the intense situations we work in, and how their requests did not conform to the laws governing us. As a result, I defused the situation and saved our business-sustaining $250,000 operating budget. Our board of directors was thrilled and later told me, “Your master’s degree just paid for itself.”

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