Dr. Jo Lobertini is the Associate Dean of the College of Online Education at Life University (Life U). She is a fresh face to the Life U community, having just come on board about five months ago. However, Dr. Lobertini already feels welcomed by staff and students at Life U and since the very beginning has felt that Life U is “her people.”

Dr. Lobertini is a proud resident of Knoxville, Tennessee who grew up in LaFollette, Tennessee, so it’s safe to say her southern roots run deep. Dr. Lobertini is married to Paul Mareth and has two adult children, Leland and Emily Davidson, as well as seven grandchildren in a blended family.

Her love of learning and education started at an early age, so by the time she went to college, she decided that the academic environment was the place she most wanted to be. After graduate school, she actively pursued a career in higher education. Her impressive résumé runs the gamut, first pursuing teaching as an English professor and later became an Assistant Dean at East Tennessee State University. This led to similar roles at Friends University in Kansas and Clarke University in Iowa, with some other compelling leadership roles in between at different places of interest. Yet she felt drawn to Life U and its refreshing approach to higher education.

“Life U is different, and I could tell that from the first interview. I can’t explain it. It has to come down to vitality. There is a positivity and an energy about people at Life U,” Dr. Lobertini said.

Partly, her desire to work in Online Education at Life U stemmed from a new thought process she had developed through her interactions with students from all walks of life, seeing that the traditional structure of many institutions was not built to suit their educational needs in terms of scheduling and other barriers. Thus, she decided that she wanted to work in a place that prioritized student success, in whatever form that takes.

“Life U has a ‘What For?’ It has a function greater than offering higher education and that suits my own personal, professional goals. You can get a degree anywhere; you can become educated anywhere. Nevertheless, if you want to have a stamp or you want to make a difference, you need to be in a place where people want to make a difference,” Dr. Lobertini said.

Alongside other faculty members connected to the College of Online Education, Dr. Lobertini works to streamline internal processes to improve the distanced learning experience. She also serves as the go-to person for Dean of the College of Online and Continuing Education Dr. Richard Belcastro for any administrative projects that need addressing related to policy and procedure for the College. It is a delicate balancing act, trying to adhere to best practices while also keeping her team aware of ever-present deadlines and University timelines.

In general, Dr. Lobertini attempts to stay cognizant of the complex challenges facing students today. Understanding the needs of “non-traditional” students helps to inform how to frame programming and coursework to best meet those needs.

Dr. Lobertini remarks on a change from years past in that regardless of student ages or backgrounds, students tend to have more responsibilities outside of academics to attend to, such as work and family, than their previous counterparts.

So online education, whether it’s a fully online degree or as a supplement to an otherwise mostly on-campus program, is a field that has grown tremendously in the past decade and should continue to do so. Not to mention the added necessity for remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to many courses scrambling to adapt their lesson plans to an online platform. Dr. Lobertini notes that this had a surprise benefit in that it seemed to help many students figure out if online education is an enjoyable and viable pathway to learning for them.

“Going to college now isn’t so much something that you stop life to do. It is something that you incorporate into your life,” said Dr. Lobertini. “That’s where the real growth is – in students who are incorporating higher education into the life they are living.”


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