Franky with her daughter in front of the UA president's mansion on the day she graduated with her bachelor's. In the photo, she is looking down at her pregnant belly through her graduation robe opening, and her daughter is hugging her belly.Bama By Distance originally interviewed Franky when she was in the undergraduate online program in Human Environmental Sciences.

In 2020, while navigating a pandemic and her responsibilities as a wife and mom (with a new baby on the way), Franky Knepp completed the final coursework for her bachelor’s in Human Environmental Sciences (HES) – 100% online.

Thanks to UA’s Quick Admit program, she was encouraged to consider earning her master’s. In addition to an expedited application process, she also received the Build on Bama tuition grant, which pays for the first class of a Bama By Distance program for UA graduates. “I’d never thought about getting my master’s before, but with the funding there, I thought, Why not?” So over the summer, she graduated from UA and applied for the online master’s program in HES. “The coursework for HES has a strong focus on leadership, and I thought that might be helpful for me to move into a higher HR position.”

Unfortunately, in the fall, instead of beginning her master’s, she was battling extreme illness in the final months of her pregnancy. “I got sick, and they kept saying it was a stomach bug, but I just stayed sick for months.” In October, when she went in for her routine 28-week appointment, her health care provider realized sheFranky holding her newborn son as she also works on homework on her laptop was very sick and needed critical care. “They saw that my blood levels and everything were too low, so they admitted me.” She stayed in the hospital for two weeks before her son Jakob was born in an emergency C-section.

While she was recovering and still in the hospital, Franky contacted Juanita McMath, a faculty member in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. “I didn’t want to miss another semester. I worried that putting it off again would be putting it off forever. Dr. McMath was so sweet and helpful through the registration process.”

In January 2021, for the second time in her life, Franky began a new college program with a newborn, but this time with a toddler, too! She’s also continued to fight for her physical health, maintaining infusion treatments since having Jakob. And just a few weeks into the semester, her husband’s military orders relocated the family from North Carolina to Colorado.

“The online option has been essential. We’ve had major cross-country moves twice in three years. Being a resident student while balancing military service would be very difficult, but Bama By Distance is perfect for people in our scenario who have to move a lot.” Beyond the course modality itself, Franky, her husband, and their children on a hike in ColoradoFranky praised the faculty involved with UA’s online master’s program. “The professors are so personable and engaged. Anything you need – emailing back and forth, they have made themselves so available. I feel like they’re there for me. It almost feels one on one with these guys; there’s so much guidance.”

In addition to being a military wife, Franky is a veteran herself, having served in the Army prior to her civilian role as an HR specialist. She is currently transitioning her own career with her family’s recent move and has been encouraged by the feedback she’s received from potential employers about having her master’s. “Having my master’s will qualify me for more opportunities. I was talking with a civilian recruiter recently, and he was telling me that if I finish my master’s, the difference in salary is worth it. We’re talking about six figures rather than what I’m currently making, and that’s a big difference.”

To finish in a shorter time frame and to qualify for additional funding through the GI Bill, Franky is taking a full graduate course load. “It’s a lot, and IFranky in a mask and at the hospital for ongoing medical treatments don’t want to lie and act like we’ve got it all under control!” Franky’s husband is also in a graduate program. “It’s taken a lot of patience to get through the semester, but it’s not impossible! We’re almost done with the semester, and I’m happy with my grades so far. Last week, I found myself rocking and soothing my son while I took a timed test, but I still got an A. So it’s possible!”

With the grit and determination Franky has, so much can happen. And scholarship opportunities make it possible for more of our military service members, veterans and their families to earn their degrees. That’s why the College of Continuing Studies’ Bama Blitz 2021 Passion Project was raising money for veteran, military and family scholarships to Bama By Distance degree programs.

Published: April 5th, 2021