Amy Ostrom holding a laptop and iphone while under a vehicle that has been raised by a lift

April 19, 2021

Amy Ostrom felt lost when she learned she would not return to the classroom after sustaining a severe knee injury. Becoming a teacher was something she had wanted ever since she was a little girl.

Ostrom, director of UNCW’s Office of Distance Education and eLearning, began her career as a K-12 educator in South Carolina in 2009. She became known for working with students facing obstacles that hindered their ability to complete their education such as challenges at home or involvement with gangs. After earning her master’s degree, Ostrom’s focus shifted to students with learning disabilities and behavioral and emotional disorders.

“I knew teaching was my calling – my passion – and I wasn’t allowed to be in that arena following my injury,” recalled Ostrom. “I was trying to figure out what was next; how could I meet that purpose when I couldn't be there physically anymore?”

Ostrom discovered a new calling after accepting a position with the College of Charleston’s Reach Program, a fully inclusive certificate program for students with mild intellectual or developmental disabilities. The job allowed her to pursue her passion for humanizing online learning and universal design to meet the needs of students at their individual levels.

“During my time there, I took over faculty development for the program. I prepared faculty for what it was like to teach a student with a disability, how to differentiate instruction and how to use technology to meet the needs of all learners,” she said. “I really found a love for it and I could reach a bigger audience this way. Everything that I did with the faculty in turn had an impact on students. I could see the exponential possibility of what happens when somebody has a quality educational experience. That’s what really got me into instructional design and I've been doing that for 10 years and absolutely love it.”

Ostrom joined UNCW in June 2017 as an instructional designer and stepped into the role of interim director for the Office of Distance Education and eLearning in June 2019. She was named director in April 2020.

For Ostrom, assisting faculty in designing online courses is similar to building a motorcycle – a hobby she shared with her father, Arthur England, along with restoring classic cars.

“Once you see how things work, you figure out how to take it apart and put it together in different ways,” she said. “It's what we do with technology and an online course; you find the technology, you break it apart, you figure out how it works and you put it back together to find new ways it can be used to teach.”

Providing high-quality online learning is a community effort, especially during the pandemic, Ostrom added. “I can’t begin to express my gratitude and adoration for the DEeL team. They are hands down the hardest working, positive, supportive and knowledgeable people that I’ve ever had a chance to work with in my career,” she said. “The transition to remote teaching was a difficult time for everyone, but this team rolled up their sleeves and immediately operated from a place of solidarity with our UNCW faculty, keeping the faculty in the forefront of their minds at every turn.”

Ostrom, who is currently pursuing her Ed.D. in educational leadership, hopes the work her team does has a profound impact on the outcomes and worldviews of students.

“I hope that the experience that they have from courses that we help with cause them to build a community with their peers and instructors and that they embrace learning in a holistic way. There are new tools and strategies being discovered at a rapid pace. It’s wonderful to be a part of a field that delights in discovery of new ways to connect people to each other and to new ideas.”

--Venita Jenkins