Famous Distance Learners

By Jeffrey Lee Simons

Fiction: Distance learners are lazy outcasts and slackers who can’t “cut it” at a regular school.

Fact: Distance learners are successful individuals who don’t let labels define them or their achievements, and let nothing stand in their way of getting what they want.

The fact is, to succeed at distance learning, you need to be self-motivated and highly disciplined. Many distance learners are taking college courses online at the same time that they are doing something else, and in the case of the famous distance learners below, doing that something else incredibly well.

The Governator: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Mr. Universe at age 20. 7-time Mr. Olympia. Mega-star actor. Founding celebrity investor of Planet Hollywood. 2 term Governor of California. Executive editor of Muscle & Fitness and Flex. Co-author of 5 books on bodybuilding. He’s run a brick-laying business, a mail order company and a restaurant. His real estate investments are just one small portion of his investment ventures, including significant ownership of the investment firm, Dimensional Fund Advisors.

And now that he’s a private citizen again, Arnold is embarking on a new role: The Governator, a comic book and cartoon super hero co-created with none other than Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and the Avengers.

Nobody could ever accuse Arnold of being a slacker. And yet, even though as a recent immigrant to the US he took college courses in the early 70’s at Santa Monica College, he eventually earned his B.A. in Business and International Economics in 1979 via distance learning from The University of Wisconsin – Superior.1

The Director: Steven Spielberg

Director of over 50 movies and TV shows. Screenwriter. Producer. Video Game designer. Co-Founder of the DreamWorks movie studio. Founder of Amblin Entertainment. Founder of The Starbrite Foundation (now the Starlight Children’s Foundation). Founder of The Shoah Foundation. 2-Time Academy Award Winner for Best Director (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan). Three of his movies set box office records (Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park) and the worldwide, unadjusted gross of films he directed exceeds $8.5 billion worldwide.

He has won over 120 awards and been nominated for 79 more. He’s been knighted in England, France and Italy, awarded the Order of Merit by Germany, and received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service and the Liberty Medal here in the U.S. He even received honorary degrees from Brown University and Boston University.

But did you know that in 1968 he dropped out of California State University Long Beach to concentrate on making movies? It wasn’t until 2002 that Spielberg finally graduated from CSULB, with a BA in Film Production and Electronic Arts, after completing his remaining requirements via independent projects and distance learning courses. The school graciously waived the requirement that film majors must submit a completed 12-minute short film, accepting Schindler’s List in its place.2

The Center: Shaquille O’Neal

One of the greatest basketball players of all time. Currently 5th all time in points scored, 5th in field goals, 12th in rebounds, 7th in blocks. 4 NBA Championship rings. 2 Olympic Gold Medals. Rookie of the Year in 1992-93. 2 scoring titles, 15 All-Star game selections, 3 All-Star Game MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, 14 All-NBA Selections. A rap music star with 5 studio albums, one of them Platinum. Star of 2 reality TV shows. Mixed Martial Artist. Graduate of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Reserve Academy and Reserve Police Officer in both the Los Angeles Port Police and Miami Beach, credited with 2 arrests.

When Shaq dropped out of Louisiana State his junior year to play in the NBA, he promised his mother that he would return one day to finish his degree. And he did exactly that, earning his BA through distance learning courses at LSU in 2000. (Phil Jackson let him miss a Lakers home game to attend his graduation.) Then he went on to earn his MBA through online courses at The University of Phoenix in 2005. He later undertook a PhD in Leadership and Education at Barry University.3

The Secretary of Transportation: Mary Peters

Only the second woman (and the first Arizonan!) to serve as the Secretary of Transportation of the United States of America, Mary Peters worked her way up through the Arizona Dept. of Transportation. She started there in 1985, and was eventually appointed Director in 1998 by Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull. She went to Washington in 2001 to serve until 2005 as the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration under President George W. Bush. In 2006, President Bush elevated her to Secretary of Transportation, where she served until she resigned in 2009.

Ms. Peters currently serves on the board of directors of HDR, an employee-owned architectural, engineering and consulting firm with nearly 7,500 professionals serving in more than 165 locations worldwide. HDR helps clients manage complex projects around the world, but Mary Peters got her Bachelor of Science degree in management from The University of Phoenix.4


1 Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Schwarzenegger

2 Steven Spielberg, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Spielberg

Biography for Steven Spielberg, The Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000229/bio

3 Shaquille O’Neal, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaquille_O%27Neal

4 Mary Peters (Secretary of Transportation), Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Peters_%28Secretary_of_Transportation%29