Vincennes University graduate embraces online learning, passion for helping others

Vincennes University graduate embraces online learning, passion for helping others

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May 29, 2019

May 29, 2019 / Vincennes University graduate embraces online learning, passion for helping others

Mason Ellis photo

VINCENNES, Ind. - High school graduation was mere months away and online learning was not at all on the college radar of Mason Ellis.

His original college plan had him commuting between his home in Bloomfield and Vincennes University. He chose VU intentionally because it offered both an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree in information technology, and tuition was low.

Ellis was a 17-year-old high school student when a car accident changed his life in January 2015. He became a person living with quadriplegia when he sustained a spinal cord injury and suffered other injuries which kept him in the hospital for 59 days.

Determined to not let his injuries keep him from graduating with his high school class or pursuing a college degree in information technology from VU, Ellis moved forward with his life.

He enrolled in the university’s Distance Education Program for Fall Semester 2015. More than 500 courses and 20 degrees are available online.

“I was hesitant about it at first,” Ellis says. “I honestly didn’t think all the courses I needed to get my actual degree would be online, but they were. I ended up liking taking online classes better than taking classes on campus in a class setting, mainly because I could do it on my own schedule. I knew all of the assignments ahead of time. You basically have the whole semester schedule on Day One and I loved that.”

Ellis graduated Magna Cum Laude this month with an associate of science degree in information technology.

The day of Commencement was his first time on campus in his wheelchair. He had visited VU once prior to his accident. On graduation day, Ellis participated in the Honors Convocation, which honored graduates for their academic achievements and was held in the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center, as well as Commencement which was held in the Physical Education Complex.

“I was pretty pleased with how wheelchair accessible the campus was,” he says. “The graduation ceremony had ramps to get on the stage and everybody that was graduating used those ramps. They were roomy and smooth. They were probably the best ramps I’d ever used for my wheelchair.”

After not being 100 percent sold on pursuing a degree online, he truly relished the experience.

Ellis began his coursework in the fall of 2015, eight months after his accident. He enrolled in two courses - but dropped one class after a particular medication hindered his concentration.

He persevered and by the end graduated with academic honors.

“I ended up getting all A’s for my classes that were for my specific degree,” he says. “I only got two B’s during all my college courses and those two were general classes.”

The flexibility of VU’s online courses allowed Ellis to learn at his own pace and set his own schedule.

In August 2018, he began working part time as an IT specialist at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center while he worked toward completing his degree.

He started working full time as an IT specialist at the Naval facility after graduating from VU.

Technology has always interested Ellis.

“I love technology and how it allows things to get done faster or allows people to do things they couldn’t do before the technology was made, which I really got to find out after my injury,” he says. “I can’t move my hands or fingers. Technology really helps me do different stuff. I also like helping people. I also like problem solving. Information technology is a combination of all those put together.”

When he isn’t helping others at work, he’s helping others outside of work.

Ellis has a YouTube channel with more than 2,000 subscribers. His goal is to help people with spinal cord injuries and inspire able-bodied individuals. Since he struggled to find information he wanted on how to live with a spinal cord injury after he was injured, he started producing and sharing videos related to his experiences.

His motto is “Living Life Just Like I Would’ve Able-Bodied”.

Ellis drives using hand controls. He attends concerts. He hunts and is even a columnist for Able Outdoors Magazine, a sporting publication for individuals with disabilities.

Next on his to-do list is earning a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Ellis plans to begin VU’s online degree program in the fall as he continues to work full time.

Online learning best suits him. Ellis suggests students experiment with online learning to determine if it’s their proper educational pathway because if it he hadn’t tried it, he probably wouldn’t have embraced it.

“If you are thinking about going to college and you are considering whether to do an online degree or a degree by taking classes on campus, I personally would recommend checking out the online degree,” he says. “You can do online and on-campus classes in the same semester. You can do that to see if you like it. I highly recommend it because it allowed me to get my associate degree. I don’t know if I would have been able to do this if I went on campus.”

VINCENNES UNIVERSITY - Indiana’s First College

VU is state-supported with campuses in Vincennes and Jasper, the Aviation Technology Center and American Sign Language program in Indianapolis, Early College Career and Technical Education Centers, and additional sites such as the Gene Haas Training and Education Center in Lebanon, the Logistics Training and Education Center in Plainfield, and the Gibson County Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics in Fort Branch. A leader in developing Early Colleges statewide, VU also offers instruction at military sites throughout the nation.

VU's Distance Education offers students the opportunity to pursue their education goals without having to spend extended periods of time on a college campus. Over 500 courses are offered through the Distance Education Program with more than 20 degrees available entirely online.

In addition to offering a wide range of associate degree and certificate programs, VU also offers bachelor’s degree programs in technology, homeland security, nursing, secondary education programs in mathematics and science, and special education/elementary education.

VU enrolls students from throughout Indiana, 35 other states, and 17 countries. Tuition and fees are the lowest among Indiana campuses with residence halls. VU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Founded in 1801, VU is Indiana’s first college and is the only college in the nation founded by an individual who would later become President of the United States. William Henry Harrison, the ninth U.S. President, founded VU while serving as governor of the Indiana Territory. More information is available at


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