Escape to Reality

“The scenario is this,” said Brett Polen, ’23, “students have been stuck at home. Our goal is to get them back out there interning, researching and preparing for life after college.” Polen, an Army Reserve veteran, knows the value of relationships. A resident of Durango, Colorado, he entered The Citadel’s online Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership in 2021, and since then he has made a point of building connections all the way from the Centennial State.

When Polen heard about the Student Affairs’ Virtual Case Study competition, he knew this could be his chance to connect with his Citadel peers. “I shot an email to all my classmates,” Polen said, “indicating that I’d love to create a team to compete.” The message resonated with other online students who wanted more than a degree—they wanted camaraderie.

“Even as a graduate student with a full-time job and friends all around you,” Polen said, “there is still that need for one-on-one connection. Regardless of whether you’re taking a program online or enrolled in a traditional path, get involved with other students who are going through what you’re going through. No matter what age you are, there’s that little piece that gets filled by being part of a group.”

Because Polen’s team is studying higher education leadership, they designed their case study to educate participants about how to safely and effectively restore on-campus engagement after COVID. They formatted their case study as an interactive, virtual escape room in which participants navigate different multimedia pathways. If they get stuck, they can click on a photo of G3, the college’s mascot, for a clue. The team worked remotely a few times a week for the next month. “It moved from discussion groups that I would participate in as needed to texting back and forth,” Polen said. “The case study made me feel like a traditional grad student.”

Getting students involved and interacting is a large part of Polen’s work as assistant director of the career and life design center at Fort Lewis College. He knows what campus engagement looks like and brought his expertise to his online classes. “I have appreciated the online program at The Citadel,” he said, “because it’s been flexible and my professors have been very accessible.” More than wireless connections, Polen found his place in The Citadel network, confirming Citadel bonds run deeper than the web.