Thirty-one of UNT's newest master's degree graduates live 7,000 miles away from Denton. For their graduation this summer, they wore traditional caps and gowns, but also donned leis to reflect their heritage.
These students from six U.S.-affiliated Pacific Island nations completed the UNT College of Information's online master's degree program in library science. In 2010, the college began the program — LEAP: Library Education for the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific — in partnership with the UNT Libraries and Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, a nonprofit that works with schools in U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands.
Funded by a nearly $1 million grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Science's Laura Bush 21st Century Library Program, the goal of LEAP was to increase the number and diversity of library professionals for the islands. An associate's degree is the highest offered in the field at any of the islands' colleges and universities, says Yvonne Chandler, UNT associate professor of library and information sciences and LEAP's co-director.
"The islands were in need of libraries with professionally trained staff who are native Pacific Islanders," she says.
The students started the program in 2011 by attending a web institute at the College of Micronesia led by UNT faculty members and librarians. Each student completed online courses, attended workshops and was mentored long distance by a UNT librarian.
Chandler says she sees more similarities than differences in the LEAP students and other UNT students.
"The Pacific Islands community has tremendous pride in our program," she says. "A number of our students were promised and have received professional positions before they finished their degrees."