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Pawlenty highlights BSU graduate in State of the State address

Gov. Tim Pawlenty visits with Bemidji State University graduate Gina Drellack and her sons, 13-year-old Jake, center, and 11-year-old Matt Nov. 20 at BSU's American Indian Resource Center. Pawlenty visited BSU as part of a tour of Minnesota campuses to announce a new online learning initiative. Pioneer File Photo

Gov. Tim Pawlenty shared the story of a Bemidji State University graduate in his State of the State address Thursday.

Pawlenty said it's time the state's "colleges and universities move more aggressively to deliver online courses," and he shared Gina Drellack's story.

The Bagley woman graduated one year ago from BSU after completing its online K-8 education program, DLiTE.

Pawlenty heard Drellack speak about her online learning experience Nov. 20 at BSU during a tour of Minnesota campuses to announce a new online learning initiative.

"She was able to take 10 classes at times and places that were convenient to her, including at her kitchen table," he said. "It was flexible, modern and efficient. As a result, she was able to keep her family as a top priority and maintain employment at the same time. She graduated about a year ago, and credits online learning with helping to transform her life."

A single mom at the time with two boys, Drellack said Thursday that she enrolled in the online program to improve her family situation economically and provide more opportunities for her sons through advancing her career. She also said she enrolled for personal growth and improvement.

Drellack said online education allowed her to accomplish these goals while keeping her job as an elementary library paraprofessional in the Bagley School District. About a month after graduating, she became the district's media specialist.

Drellack said she was able to work her schooling around her family and work schedules.

"It didn't have to inhibit the rest of life," she said.

Drellack said she is surprised, but also very flattered and honored, to have her story be a "positive example" of the governor's vision for the state in online learning in his address.

The goal of the new online learning initiative announced in November is for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to deliver 25 percent of its credits online by 2015.

"I know online courses won't replace some needed face-to-face education and hands-on experience, and we don't want it to," Pawlenty said Thursday. "But our higher education story needs to look and sound a lot more like Gina's story. The higher education marketplace is clearly and undeniably moving in that direction. The only question will be whether Minnesota leads or follows."

Pawlenty said he is "grateful MnSCU's board and leadership have accepted the challenge and appreciate the progress they have made to this point." He added that he also appreciates the University of Minnesota's efforts in this area.

Pawlenty also has proposed that the state high school graduation standards require all students to participate in an online experience by the time they graduate.

Drellack said she finds the new online learning initiative for MnSCU and proposal for high school students exciting.

"I think that will provide opportunities for Minnesota students that are necessary," she said.