Guy Barnes, 30, was one class away from earning his bachelor’s degree in voice performance in 2013 when a dream job opportunity arose: Move to Washington D.C. to play in a military band for heads of state and elected officials around the world. He jumped at the chance.

Andrew Dodderer, 32, was 19 units away from graduating when his number came up on a wait list for the Fire Academy in 2011. The wait was two years, and the academy was a long-held dream; he couldn’t pass it up.

Edith Magallon, 35, was alone in the U.S., her mother and five younger siblings were in Mexico, where her uncle was helping the family since her father’s death in 2004. In 2017, her uncle died, and she put her education dream on hold to take care of her family.

Barnes, Dodderer and Magallon all left Fresno State before finishing their degrees — and are now returning as part of an inaugural cohort of 15 students who will complete a Liberal Arts degree.

The new Liberal Arts degree, nicknamed, “Reconnect,” launched in August through the Division of Continuing and Global Education. The initial grant for the program was awarded in 2015 from the California State University Commission of the Extended University to support the development of flexible class offerings to improve student success, engagement and learning in an online modality. Working through the campus and CSU system consultative processes, including accreditation from the Western Association of Schools, this program offers working professionals a second chance to complete their degree, regardless of the major they were originally pursuing.

“As a young woman in another country with no one to support me and no financial support, of course if this happens to you, you go down,” said Magallon, who has repeatedly tried to finish her degree even while progressing in her career as an advertising and marketing account executive for a broadcasting company.

With Reconnect, Fresno State offers former students a path to graduation that is flexible enough for adults with careers and families, and offers incredible value, a sense of place and personal relevance; it reconnects students back to the campus to finish the baccalaureate degree.

“Our goal is to increase access to higher education in the Central Valley,” said Dr. Daniel Bernard, associate dean of the Division of Continuing and Global Education. “We’re creating programs that deliver education beyond the traditional boundaries of the campus.”

The new Liberal Arts degree allows students who have completed at least 70 units and their lower division general education requirements to take classes in intensive eight-week sessions taught by Fresno State faculty. Faculty coordinator Alison Mandaville said the coursework for the new degree is interdisciplinary and grounded in regional applications that will enhance students’ careers. Classes will delve into California politics, literature and public health, and a Capstone course will center on a project or research to address a community problem.

“This feels very unique,” Mandaville said. “I don’t see it anywhere else, and I’m really proud of that.”

Barnes said he once thought it would be easy to finish his degree, but red tape and the cross-country distance proved to be a barrier, even as he was enjoying his new role, performing for two presidents and countless other officials. A degree will expand his abilities and options for a career post-military band, he said, but researching his options at other schools he found many credits wouldn’t transfer, and repeating coursework would drain both time and resources.

“I was like, ‘thank heavens,’ I’ve been waiting for something like this,” Barnes said. “I was running out of options.”

Dodderer works as a fire prevention inspector for the Fresno Fire Department and said finishing his degree is a crucial piece of the plans he and his wife have crafted. “Going back to Fresno State as a mature adult, I have a specific goal in mind and a purpose in why I’m doing it. It’s something I need and want to further my career,” he said.

Mandaville emphasized that the Liberal Arts degree will benefit the Central Valley by increasing college degrees in the workforce and community. “I care about being able to empower the students in the Central Valley through this option,” she said. “Our hope is we can help people who already live here and want to live here gain the education they need to become our innovators, entrepreneurs and social changers.”

(Written by Michelle Deininger, Fresno State alumna)