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Tips on Becoming a Virtual Volunteer


Volunteers are an essential part of any community. But what happens when you want to give back, but don’t know where to start? Maybe the organization you are interested in is far away or there aren’t a lot of volunteer opportunities in your town—what happens then?

Thanks to the rise of virtual volunteering, time and place no longer dictate whether or not you can give back. As long as you have access to the Internet and a computer, you can find a way to volunteer.

Finding Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

It wouldn’t be much of a virtual volunteering opportunity if you couldn’t find it online! Thanks to websites like, the Web’s largest volunteer engagement network, you can search for volunteer opportunities anywhere and from wherever you are.

“When we launched VolunteerMatch, we were very interested in using the power of the Internet to not only create brick-and-mortar relationships, but also to unlock the potential of new relationships between good people and good causes that would no longer be dependent on proximity and region,” explains Robert Rosenthal, vice president of communications and marketing at VolunteerMatch.

While the bulk of the 80,000+ volunteer opportunities listed on the site at any given time include an actual brick-and-mortar location, there is a small chunk dedicated solely to virtual volunteer opportunities.

“Virtual volunteering opportunities, or those that can be accomplished from virtually anywhere, typically make up about five percent of the overall number of volunteer listings posted by nonprofits at,” reveals Rosenthal. “They remain a popular way for people to get involved and contribute from anywhere.”

Virtual Volunteering Snapshot

So what do these virtual volunteer opportunities look like?

A search on turned up 4,386 virtual volunteer opportunities. Needs ranged from tutors and peer mentors, to writers and web developers. There are options for people who want to serve as advocates in education, those who can serve as helpline volunteers for at-risk individuals, and those who can jumpstart online fundraisers for a good cause. There are even some options for those of you who can knit or sew!

All that’s required is a computer, a needed skill set, and the desire to serve.

Benefits of Volunteering

You may be wondering why you should consider giving up the little bit of free time that you have to volunteer. For one thing, helping people never gets old. Just ask those who do it on a regular basis! There is simply no substitute for putting a smile on someone’s face or meeting a need.

At the same time, there are practical benefits associated with volunteering. If you are considering switching careers, but need to gain additional experience, volunteering is a great way to do it. It’s also a way to get more involved in your current career field.

For example, Dr. Mary Goggins Selke, core curriculum faculty for Northcentral University’s School of Education and founding chair of the Association of Teacher Educators’ Special Interest Group (SIG) for Educational Leadership, recently had the opportunity to publish an article in the Southern Journal of Educational Administration with other SIG members.

“It started out as a presentation for a national conference that we attended, but then I received an email call for article proposals and suggested to the team that we convert the paper to an article,” she relates. “We met over lunch at the conference and hammered out an article outline and who-needed-to-do-what.  I wrote the intro and closing discussion, submitted the article, and the rest is history.”

Selke also serves as choir director for a nursing home choir in her hometown, the perfect outlet for utilizing her passion (and undergraduate degree) for music.

“I always thought volunteering was just something you did because my family did lots of it and involved me from the time I was very young,” she says. “But the truth is it doesn’t matter if it involves professional service or local or global community service in an area of passion apart from one’s profession. Or, if it’s done in-person or virtually…volunteering always provides a means to augment the quality of life for people touched by the ripple effect of putting your actions where your beliefs are.”

 *Originally published in Higher Degrees Winter 2014.

NCU Faculty Profile: Mentoring the Next Generation of Teachers, One at a Time


For Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D) life headed south – fast – on the first day of retirement.

Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D.)

Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D.)

“I decided to avoid the reality of retirement by driving South to visit the states that I had not visited before: Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama,” laughs Erb.

Erb had retired in March 2013 after six years as the Superintendent of the Tuscarora School District, which is located in Pennsylvania approximately 90 minutes north of Washington D.C. “I began my teaching career as a social studies teacher in two different school districts before becoming the Principal of Tyrone Area High School in 1997, and then moved on to become the Superintendent of Schools at Tuscarora.”

But Erb’s retirement was only a partial one. She had begun teaching at Northcentral University in 2010. These days she facilitates Teaching as Reflective Practice in Secondary Education (ED4008) in the B.Ed. program and School Law (EDL5008-8), Education Policy and Practices (EDL5022-8), Contemporary Issues (ED5001-8) and Action Research Capstone (ED6002-8) in the M.Ed. program.

Erb has on average 30 students at any time. “One of the most fulfilling parts of being a principal and superintendent was mentoring young teachers. NCU’s one-to-one teaching model is similar to how I mentored my teachers. I have a chance to learn about them, what they are interested in and the challenges they encounter. That allows me to tailor my feedback to their specific circumstances.”

And there is a wealth of information that Erb shares from her 30-year career in education. “When I was a principal a few of my colleagues were working on school leadership standards for Pennsylvania that were aligned to National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) standards. Following their lead, I had the opportunity to be involved in the development of Pennsylvania’s Inspired Leadership (PIL) program,” she explains.

“I implemented PIL in the Tuscarora School District by requiring the principals to complete the required training. Getting the district leadership team on the same page made a huge difference as we worked together to improve facilities, develop quality curriculum, and increase student achievement in the school district” notes Erb.

Higher education today is much different than when Erb started teaching, let alone completed her Ed.D. at Penn State University. “I had to drive to class and carve out time for a required on-site internship. Not to mention that I practically lived at the library. There was no extensive online library available then, just stacks of books and card catalogs,” she notes.

Erb is fond of quoting the idiomatic expression of unknown origins “we live in interesting times.”

“I teach for an online graduate school, but I live in a farmhouse that has been in my husband’s family since the William Penn Land Grant,” shared Erb. (The William Penn Land Grant – for history buffs – was awarded to William Penn by King Charles II in 1681. It is on display in the Library of Congress.)

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

Trends in K-12 Education: Online Continuing Teacher Education

With each passing year, standards for student achievement in K-12 classrooms across the country continue to rise. Most recently, the wide-spread adoption of Common Core State Standards has forced a new focus on student achievement and application of real world knowledge and skills. In an effort to help students exceed these expectations and succeed in the classroom, proactive educators must seek continuing education that can be immediately translated in to the classroom.

With this goal in mind, online degrees and certificate programs have quickly become the solution. “Choosing between a certificate program and degree program should really be tied to the student’s goals,” says Dr. Karen Ferguson, Assistant Dean for Northcentral University’s School of Education.

Dr. Karen Ferguson -  Assistant Dean, School of Education

Dr. Karen Ferguson – Assistant Dean, School of Education

“A degree program will provide students with both a breadth and a depth of information in their chosen area.  A certificate, on the other hand, tends to be very focused and specific.  Students should choose between the two based on their personal goals and professional requirements.”

In today’s competitive market for online education, fewer requirements, a completion date that is often as short as a few months, and a lower cost for total tuition have given certificate programs the edge – for now.

“Certificate options demonstrate to your school leadership that you are dedicated to continuous improvement and learning,” explains Dr. Ferguson.  “Often, certificates are a nice addition because students can learn focused content that may not have been offered at the time they earned their degree.”

For example, earning an education certificate in early childhood education, e-learning or education leadership would serve almost any educator well. While these specializations are common among online schools, NCU’s School of Education has taken specialized to a higher degree by becoming hyper-focused on the needs of teachers across the country attempting to adapt to the Common Core State Standards requirements.

“NCU offers certificates in a number of areas, all of which will support our students’ goals.  One of our recent additions is the Mathematics Excellence in the Common Core post-baccalaureate certificate.  This unique certification in education is designed specifically to help educators who are currently teaching mathematics to implement the Common Core State Standards,” says Dr. Ferguson.

Whether completing a degree program for advancement or a certificate program for added knowledge, online continuing teacher education is now the go-to solution for educators looking to prepare their students for success. For more information on all of NCU’s Title IV funded certificate and degree programs, visit

Finding Your Study Space

By Kara Hawking

Seeking out the perfect study space for your needs is a great first step to ensuring your academic success! Every student is different, but keeping a few things in mind when selecting your space can help even the most reluctant scholar.

Use what you know about yourself to select the best setting for your success. Some students prefer complete silence, while others enjoy a little background noise. Then there are those like NCU student Carolann Carruthers Hampton (Ed.D.), who can pull it off in a room full of family! Hampton manages to combine school and family time by studying “on the couch with headphones and classical music. This way [she] can still be with [her] children!”

Take a look around your home and think creatively. Many students don’t have enough space in their homes to dedicate an entire room to studying, so becoming resourceful is a must. Current NCU student Lisa Stitzel Brown (M.A.Psy.) shares, “I do most of my reading in the laundry room while doing laundry.”

Evaluate your day for hidden down-time and take advantage of it. Almost everyone spends time waiting for food at a restaurant, sitting in a stylist’s chair, or riding in the car to work. Use this time to listen to a lecture or take a few notes (but not while driving!). This seemingly useless time adds up by the end of the week!

If you’re still struggling with finding the perfect space, keep in mind that your options are endless. As an online student, you’re not confined to the four walls of the library or lecture hall – your studies are wherever you choose to be.

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