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Online learning offers flexibility and convenience to students regardless of their proximity to a traditional campus. However, online programs can also feel isolating. Beth, a mathematics specialist candidate, completed a graduate program while living 7000 miles and seven time zones away from her instructor and peers. Through intentional planning by instructors, Beth found community by making personal connections, celebrating life experiences, and sharing a passion for mathematics education with her peers. Furthermore, Beth felt empowered to take academic risks and expose professional vulnerabilities in the learning community. The instructors within the program valued learning as a social construct and therefore designed opportunities for candidates to make ongoing personal and professional connections. In this mathematics specialist program, participants and instructors each took responsibility for forming and sustaining the online community. Although the examples shared in this manuscript are one student’s experiences in a specific context, mathematics leaders may be able to extend the idea of forging connections into other virtual contexts. Specifically, we value and highlight the importance of creating an environment that recognizes the learner as a whole person with competing personal and professional priorities.





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