Volgenau School of Engineering
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Veterans take on new normal

July 10, 2020   /   by Ryley McGinnis

James Carsner outside smiling with a baseball cap and red shirt on.

James Carsner, a 20-year Navy veteran, was no stranger to online courses when Mason made the switch mid-spring semester. He has found the silver lining in the change, but he is hoping to get back to hands-on learning. Photo provided.

Veterans are used to tackling new challenges, so when two veterans/Mason Engineering students were faced with the challenge of virtual learning, they were ready to take it on using their unique experiences.

Mason Engineering’s James Carsner and Austin Shiver are two veterans and students in our community who have had different encounters with virtual learning in the past.

A 20-year Navy veteran and civil and infrastructure engineering major, Carsner is no stranger to online courses. He earned his MBA online through the University of Phoenix while serving in the Navy, so the change this past spring wasn’t a huge leap for him.

“It was mainly a shift to balancing my time and no longer having to go onto campus. I had to figure out how to not let time slip away,” says Carsner.

Carsner says the approach faculty took online benefitted him. “The professors kept the classes on the same schedule and made it live, which was great. If we didn’t still have the lectures then it would’ve been more of a struggle.”

Carsner’s wife, who is still an active duty member of the Army, and their three children don’t live far from the Fairfax Campus, but the time that Carsner has gained by cutting his commute gave him more time to focus on the virtual learning.

“It takes planning and maturity. You have to keep up with deadlines, double-check them, and be organized,” says Carsner.

His main concern for the fall semester is if hand-on labs and his senior design classes remain online. But for the summer, Carsner has been taking a full load of online classes so he can complete some of his requirements to hopefully graduate in May 2021.

Army veteran Austin Shiver (left) and girlfriend Sarah Worth (right) shared a living space while both working and learning remotely. Photo provided.

Shiver, a computer science major who was in the Army for six years before retiring and starting classes at Mason, had a different experience with the transition.

Shiver has never experienced online learning before, so the quick turnaround was an adjustment. “It’s a lot harder to focus on online courses. I like it when there is a place and a certain time I need to be there. It is a good motivator to stay focused,” he says.

Professors who hosted live lectures and shared the recordings afterward were beneficial for Shiver because he could go back to work through tougher topics. “I was able to see the comments other students made throughout the class. It was a good resource,” he says.

While studying at home, he is sharing space with his girlfriend, Mason Engineering staff member Sarah Worth. Shiver says it was luckily a pretty painless transition to make sure they weren’t disrupting each other’s work. 

Despite the challenges, Shiver feels he is more adapted to online courses, but that he is looking forward to getting back to his routine, only if it is safe to do so. “We have been trying to stay safe, but I’ve been going a little stir crazy. The isolation gives even going to take the trash out new meaning,” he says.

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