woman sits outside her Airstream with a computer on her lap doing work near the ocean
Wendy Burnett earned a PhD in applied health sciences from Augusta University's College of Allied Health Sciences while traveling the country in her Airstream trailer.

An Airstream and a Wi-Fi signal: Love of travel pairs well with remote learning for Augusta University grad

While the world of Zoom, Skype and Teams was available well before the COVID-19 pandemic, the tools have become even more important in everyday learning.

For one Augusta University graduate, the ability to learn virtually became vitally important, both professionally and personally, and led to her recently earning a PhD in applied health sciences from the College of Allied Health Sciences.

Wendy Burnett said she isn’t your traditional student in the first place, and was happy to maximize the resources and virtual options to get her PhD. Burnett is an educator herself, a mother and loves to travel.

Since she was already doing virtual research with her mentor, Andrew Balas, PhD, during the pandemic, he allowed Burnett to pursue her desire to travel post-pandemic and continue her studies that way.

“We could share things and we both had our own computers in front of us, so it was very easy to communicate,” said Burnett. “So after COVID settled down and we were able to go back to classes, we just opted to stay virtual. I had finished my comps and became a PhD candidate; that’s when I started traveling full-time.”

With an Airstream in tow, Burnett hit the road, and Balas was on board with the idea from the get-go.

woman in her graduation cap and gown with a diploma in hand
Wendy Burnett graduated from the College of Allied Health Sciences with a PhD.

“This was really her wish,” said Balas. “Our research was data science, so I really felt this is a good deal for everyone. I really don’t care where she’s sitting in front of the computer. To me it’s a very logical way of data science research.”

Obviously, remote learning can’t be utilized for every field and some students need to physically be in a lab or clinical setting to conduct research or learn patient care. But for data science, that’s another story. Balas even indicated he would offer this option to others and has received positive feedback from his peers and the PhD committee after seeing the work Burnett was able to accomplish.

He knows Burnett appreciated the opportunity and worked hard to meet or exceed all standards set forth.

Man smiling
Andrew Balas, PhD

“She has the drive to succeed and the passion to clean data and it’s enormously important, and I have that, too. I have high standards of quality that we try to promote and she’s been a full partner in that,” Balas said.

Burnett spent quite a bit of time at her parents’ home in the Florida Keys, where she would set up shop with her laptop and go to work. Her travels took her up to the coast to Maine, as well as Costa Rica and Missouri. One of her biggest challenges in some of these locations was Wi-Fi availability.

“I make sure I have Wi-Fi, but as you know, most national parks don’t have Wi-Fi or a cell signal,” she said. “I do have a weeBoost, which allows me to boost my cellular signal, and I do try to find places that have Wi-Fi but that’s not guaranteed, so I kind of go with the flow. Video can be harder because it requires more bandwidth but we did a lot of audio meetings and we’d send emails and use Box and Google Drive, so it all worked out.”

Burnett’s distance learning isn’t stopping any time soon. She’ll be doing a fellowship with Balas for the next year and then hopefully start teaching or even conducting research analysis online.

“Dr. Burnett’s experience demonstrates the demand our learners have for anytime, anywhere learning,” said Marc Austin, PhD, dean of Augusta University Online. “Tapping into student demand with more engaging learning models that accommodate their busy schedule is one of the foundational reasons the university is investing in the AU Online platform.”

Burnett sees greater remote offerings via fully online learning as an important opportunity for students of all ages.

Balas is also working with Augusta University Online to develop Master of Public Health courses that can go where the students go. He said it’s going to be a more regimented approach than Burnett’s non-traditional experience, but he sees the importance of what she accomplished.

“The new school also recognized that even AU Online or online education as we know it will be much more than what it is today. There will be completely new and very different areas and a PhD is a good example,” said Balas.

Like Love Haha Wow Sad Angry
Avatar photo
Written by
Kevin Faigle

Kevin Faigle is Media Relations Specialist at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at kfaigle@augusta.edu.

View all articles
Avatar photo Written by Kevin Faigle

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

graphic that says download jag mobile with icon buttons below that say download on app store and download on google play with a picture of a phone