Move over Match.com and eHarmony. There’s a West Virginia University online graduate degree program that helps singles find love—well, not officially.
But for two graduate students enrolled in the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program, that’s just what happened.
The IMC program is the first integrated marketing communications master’s degree program in the world available exclusively online. It is designed to meet the needs of busy working professionals, affording its students the opportunity to continue working while receiving a master’s degree in the marketing field. Finding love was just an added bonus for program graduates Phil Satterfield and Stephanie Camp.
Satterfield and Camp, both of Charleston, enrolled in the IMC program in the spring semester of 2005. During their first course, the two chatted frequently through the IMC’s discussion board, but those conversations were pretty much limited to class topics.
“In the program, you’re given one or two questions a week that you have to answer,” Camp explained. “We had to respond to at least three other students. I always thought Phil had good insight, so I often found myself responding to his posts.
“Once you were logged into the class, you could see who was online and who wasn’t,” she said. “You could even instant message someone if you wanted. When you’re online with people day in and day out, it’s a unique bond. It’s always nice to have the opportunity to actually meet them in person.”
That opportunity came when Camp and Satterfield participated in WVU’s annual IMC Information Weekend and Student Reunion in June 2005, where they both attended a roundtable discussion.
After that, they talked on the phone for about a week and e-mailed through the IMC network, and Satterfield asked Camp out to dinner.
“Suddenly, it was clear that the connection we made from talking online was developing into something more,” Camp said. “We had so much in common that we began dating.”
At the time, Camp, a Pittsburgh native, lived in Morgantown and worked for Sprint. Satterfield, a native of Fairmont, was working for Gov. Joe Manchin. The two had been dating since April and were driving back and forth from Morgantown to Charleston on weekends to see each other despite busy work and school schedules.
“After about eight months of driving back and forth from Morgantown to Charleston, a position opened at Sprint in Charleston, so I took it,” Camp said.
A year later, the couple became engaged.
Both graduated in May 2006. Camp now works for medical device company CooperSurgical, and Satterfield is employed by the Arnold Agency, a public relations firm in Charleston.
While the couple’s story may be unusual, developing both personal and professional friendships is common among students enrolled in the IMC program. Despite the geographic distance among classmates, many students find the online format allows for more social networking connections than a traditional classroom.
“The IMC program was a collaborative learning environment that I found to be even more interactive than a traditional classroom,” said graduate Erin Whitescarver of Colorado Springs, Colo. “I was constantly inspired by both the professors’ and my fellow students’ real-world experiences.”
IMC student Cara Stanco of Mclean, Va., added, “I think you get to know more people than you would in a traditional classroom setting because you’re reading all of their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of topics that a traditional setting does not allow the time for.”
A common misconception about online courses is that students miss out on the socialization aspect of college. For Camp and Satterfield especially, that online experience led to a permanent connection.
“In a way, we really did meet online,” Camp said. “We made a lot of good friends through the program, too. I knew a lot of good things would come out of getting my IMC degree, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find a husband.”
The happy couple plans to marry in October.
The IMC program was originally launched as a certificate program in 2001 and became a full master’s degree program in 2003. It started with 17 students and has grown today to 200-plus students from 32 states and numerous countries beyond the U.S. borders. There are more than 30 faculty members from across the country.
For more information on the program, visit http://www.imc.wvu.edu/.