Four nursing students from Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Florida, who would have never crossed paths, have become fast friends through University of Mary Online.

When Marla Michaels, a registered nurse, started graduate school online with the University of Mary, she knew getting her education while working full time wouldn’t be easy. Marla knew it would be worth it to get her degree, but she didn’t yet realize the other benefits she would receive from University of Mary Online: lifelong friendships.

During the second course Marla took she met fellow online Master of Science in Nursing student Sarah Koepp. “One of us reached out to the other via email about school. We exchanged cell phone numbers and began texting frequently,” remembered Marla. “I was relieved, grateful and blessed. I was not alone in my endeavor.”

Marla works at Children’s Mercy Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri, and Sarah works at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, so they relied on texting, phone calls, and Facebook to keep in touch. They had many of the same classes and cheered each other on through grad school.

When their capstone class approached, their friendship grew to a group of four, including Sandi Thorson and Becky Tomaselli. “Once we exchanged cell phone numbers and created a group text thread, the two separate groups of two quickly became four,” Marla explained.

Sandi works at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Becky works at Accredo Health Group, Inc., in Orlando, Florida. These four people would have never crossed paths if it weren’t for University of Mary Online.

The four continued to grow closer through their capstone project, despite the geographic distance. “We met every Monday evening via a conference line. That made a big difference to actually hear each other’s voices,” Sarah shared.

They made an effort to get to know each other personally as well as professionally. “Even though we are far apart, we are very aware of the events happening in each other’s home cities,” Marla said.

Graduation came and provided an opportunity to finally meet in person. “We all made the commitment to travel to Bismarck for graduation. I don’t think any of us would have missed it for the world,” Marla shared. “Not just to celebrate our hard work and dedication to our careers and the nursing profession, but to finally meet each other. There was a lot of hugging and tears in the hotel lobby that day.”

But their friendship didn’t end with commencement. The four still get together about every two years. “Each time we’re together, there is no light, warm up conversation- we just start right in where we last left off.” Marla said.

Their friendship has become increasingly meaningful. “We truly cheer each other on,” Sarah shared. “It is a friendship that is honest, true, and supportive.”

“We formed such a strong bond because we were the only people we knew who could understand our situation at the time; trying to juggle full time jobs, grad school classes, our capstone project, all while experiencing the normal family ups and downs,” Marla added. “We also spend a lot of time discussing leadership and management experiences and provide professional advice, encouragement, and kudos.”

For the group, the University of Mary stood out because it was the Christian education they were all looking for. “Going to the University of Mary allowed us to share faith experiences. We come from a variety of background of faiths, but faith is absolutely important to all of us. Being able to deeply share personal beliefs bonds us in a way another program might not,” Sarah said.

All four of the classmates are forever grateful they found each other during their graduate studies. “Having the constant connection with Sarah, Becky and Sandi enriched the experience exponentially,” Marla concluded. She encourages other online students to reach out and make connections with their peers. “Take the initiative and reach out to another classmate. You might just become forever friends.”

Sarah agreed, saying, “Take a leap of faith and reach out – we come from different backgrounds and different geographic regions. But because we stepped out of our comfort zone and reached out, it made all the difference. Online education can be isolating. All four of us were looking for a personal connection and we found it!”

Learn more about the University of Mary’s online graduate courses at