After Eidy Herrera graduated from the University of Utah in electrical engineering in 2010, she always wanted to continue on with her master’s degree. Then life happened.

She started working, and she and her husband began a family. “Since I graduated, I wanted to do it,” she says about working toward a graduate degree. “I just wasn’t able to feed it into my schedule.”

But six years later, Herrera, a 32-year-old systems engineer at L3 Technologies, is now going back to school to fulfill her dream of earning a master’s in electrical and computer engineering even though her whirlwind life has not slowed down. That’s now possible through the department’s new online master’s program, a full 30-hour curriculum toward a graduate degree that has the exact same requirements and courses as the on-campus program, only students take the classes through the web. The program launched at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

The new program is accepting applications for the fall 2017 semester, and a new website was created for the program at ecemsonline.utah.edu. The application deadline for fall is April 1.

“I’ve been waiting for school to do this type of class,” says Herrera, who is one of the first students to enroll in the online courses. “You just do it on your own time. That’s a big advantage.”

ECE department chairman Gianluca Lazzi created the program with the idea it could attract non-traditional students such as those living out-of-state as well as working professionals by giving them the same rigorous courses that students take on campus.

“It can be for professionals. It can be for conventional students. The fact is we’re getting more and more generations of students attuned to online learning environment,” he said. “The kids we’re getting now have no fear of an online learning environment. We’ll miss out if we don’t make a format that is much more comfortable for them.”

So far, 10 ECE faculty members have recorded their courses at a television studio on campus. The video is then edited and hosted on the Canvas Network online learning portal at www.canvas.net. There are also online discussion boards where students can post questions for faculty to answer.

The online master’s program is just the newest example of the ECE department developing new online features for students to help them learn and interact better with department administrators. A year ago, the department started an online chat with academic advisors on its home page at betaece.wpengine.com so students could receive quick snippets of advice any time during office hours.

“Before, we used to get 10 calls or so a month, but now we are bombarded with inquiries,” Lazzi says about the chat feature.

For Herrera, the opportunity to complete her master’s degree with much more flexibility is just the advantage she needed in order to improve her skills and make herself more valuable for her company.

“I’m really glad and excited they’re doing online classes,” she says, noting that it would take twice as much time out of her day if she took the classes on campus. “With this, you can do it on your time, something that works on your schedule, like a night when the kids are sleeping. That’s the best benefit — time management.”