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OU alumna shares her experience after two online programs

Wed Apr 28, 2021 at 02:44 PM

Holly DeChane graduated with her undergraduate degree in special education and she couldn’t wait to become a teacher. However, her husband’s graduate school program temporarily took them out of state and her plans to get into a classroom were put on hold. DeChane took the opportunity to further her education with a Master of Education in Special Education with Concentration in ASD through Oakland University’s Online Programs. After completing that program, she also participated in the Animal Assisted Therapy program and hopes to tie that into her career as well. 


“Online classes gave me the flexibility to continue working part time, to cheer on my husband and support him in his education, and to work toward my goals all at the same time,” said DeChane. Shortly after the DeChanes were married, they moved to New York. Because it was for school, DeChane knew she wouldn’t be there for long enough to establish herself as a teacher in the area. So, she began looking to earn her master’s degree while she waited to relocate back to Michigan. 

DeChane said she came across the online program at OU and thought it would be a great fit. Aside from being online and giving her flexibility, OU also had a lot of options related to the field of education. 

While the class was online and her classmates weren’t together in a classroom, DeChane said she put all of her focus into connecting to the material and her peers. DeChane said she also appreciated the benefits of being in the School of Education and Human Services, like knowledgeable professors who actively work in the field, the opportunity for TEACH grant funding to help pay for classes and the quality of the instruction. 

“I had a former boss tell me that it was important to be able to put my master’s degree to work. People are going to be able to tell when you are not qualified. They are going to expect that I can put my master’s into practice,” said DeChane, so she focused on her work and learned as much as she could. “I never felt like my time was wasted in any of my classes, also the assignments were applicable and worthwhile.”

Throughout her master’s program, DeChane said the students in her classes were just as involved. They were supportive and helpful to one another. She said the faculty was responsive via email and during live lectures, they were always available to answer questions. 

DeChane said taking online classes can require some flexibility and time management, but  selecting classes that invoked her passion helped her to stay motivated.  

“I honestly think it’s the content that keeps me on track. When you’re taking classes about things that you’re interested in and passionate about, you want to be there and involved,” said DeChane.


DeChane completed her program in December 2016 and was already working as a teacher. She dove into her career and the two special needs dogs she and her husband adopted. As they helped the wheelchair-bound dogs learn to walk again, DeChane realized she had the itch to get back in the classroom again, but not as a teacher, as a student. She began to look for another program at OU when she came across the Animal Assisted Therapy Program offered through Professional and Continuing Education.

“My whole life at home revolves around our little hobby farm and my love of animals, and the concept of quality of life is something that’s very important to me. To have the opportunity to bring all of those things together- teaching, animals, and helping others, it was the perfect fit.

I put it off for a year after I’d initially found out about the program so I could save up some ‘fun money’ since it was something that I was doing just for me, but I couldn’t wait to start,” said DeChane. 

To help fund her Animal Assisted Therapy certificate, DeChane made and sold fleece dog toys, but earned enough to enroll in the program within the year.

“Applying to the AAI program is one of the best decisions I’ve made! Dr. Amy Johnson, Melissa Winkle, and Jennifer Cepnick that teach all of the classes are just an incredible wealth of knowledge, and I've been able to make connections with them that I see as really invaluable. They each truly love what they do in their fields, and it’s really important to them to share it

with us and to teach us in a way that we’ll be able to effectively share it with others. The students in the program are a really diverse group as far as careers and career goals, and they are so amazing at encouraging each one of us and helping to make sure that what they provide is applicable to what we’d like to do with it. I’d recommend it to anyone,” said DeChane. 

The Next Chapter

To further her dreams of incorporating animals into her education practices, she has already found a partner in a sixth-month-old Golden Retriever named Barley. DeChane and Barley just began obedience training and he will work to pass the necessary tests to work alongside DeChane. Her goal is to eventually incorporate her dog into her work in the schools, but in the meantime she plans to volunteer with Barley in the future. Not only does she want to work with students, she’d like to work with patients and families receiving hospice services as well. 

“He doesn’t work for me, he is my partner, he is my equal and I am his advocate. If he and I are working with a student, he is watching the student and I’m watching him and taking cues from him,” said DeChane. 

As DeChane recently turned in her final paper for the Animal Assisted Therapy program, she said she would do it all over again. 

“I’m thrilled with the quality of the education that I’ve gotten here and the connections that I’ve been able to make and, I feel, continue to be available to me,” said DeChane. “Especially if you’re at a place in your life where driving to campus several times a week isn’t really a possibility for you, online classes are the way to go. The flexibility of being able to attend classes and complete homework from anywhere I need to is amazing.”