Telecommuters bring dollars to Kauai, don’t congest roads

From the comfort of her Poipu home, Cheryl Gruse trains college professors to teach students at an online university.

She is new faculty training manager for DeVry University of Chicago’s new online campus, and through telephone and computer contact with her students who work part-time at home across the country, she prepares them to teach online university classes to online students also scattered across the United States and studying in front of home computers.

Gruse, 48, is a telecommuter, probably DeVry’s westernmost telecommuter, or someone who works from home, enabled to do so by talent, computer technology and telephone and telecommunications lines.

She has telecommuted for nearly a year, and since DeVry’s online student enrollment is doubling every quarter, and from 600 to 5,000 students in the last 12 months, “we’re training faculty hand over fist” to keep up with that exploding enrollment, she said.

“That’s my full-time administrative job,” and it involves at least an hour on the phone each week with each of her 25 students, in addition to online class time.

Faculty is recruited out of Atlanta, the university’s administrative offices are outside Chicago, the operations manager is in Phoenix, the server is in Denver, and faculty and faculty trainers are scattered across the country, she said.

Once recruited, new staff are turned over to trainers like Gruse, who run the recruits through mock courses and stay with them as mentors and coaches through their first semester of delivery of online education.

Other than mandatory workshops every two months in Chicago, the job is done on her schedule, in her home, where the time difference between Kauai and the Mainland works perfectly with her students, most of whom have full-time day jobs in addition to their teaching chores.

She is the only DeVry trainer in Hawaii, and for her students on the Mainland who want to do their part-time work late at night, the time difference is perfect for both teacher and students because that’s mid-afternoon here, she said.

Once limited mainly to brokers and others trading stocks online, telecommuting has blossomed into a legitimate employment option for many professionals, including writers and editors, Web designers, executive talent-hunters, architects and others who use computer-assisted design programs, tax-preparers, and others.

The idea is that if someone can do their work from anyplace in the world, and simply hit a keyboard button and send it anywhere else in the world, why not do that from Kauai?

“The computer is my only tool. I can be anywhere,” said one Eastside telecommuter.

The idea of bringing money to the island in a manner other than tourism appeals to many telecommuters. So does the idea of working at home with extremely flexible schedules.

“Michael Crichton is the ultimate (Kauai) telecommuter,” said another Kauai telecommuter who does some work for the TV writer and book author.

Crichton lives two or three months a year at his Hanalei Bay home, and from there often creates and sends scripts and chapters via computer to publishers, editors and producers on the Mainland.

Soon, representatives of the University of Hawaii at Manoa will spearhead an online survey to gauge Internet usage and telecommuting patterns here.

Letters in support of the survey have been signed by Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, and university and state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism officials.

The study, which will take participants five to eight minutes to complete, will be done in August. Information is available at .

The survey is being administered by the UH Economic Research Organization (UHERO), which has also been conducting ongoing online surveys about Kauai consumer and business confidence.

Information compiled, including what may be a near-comprehensive list of Kauai e-mail addresses, will be kept confidential so as not to reveal individual e-mail addresses or subject participants to Spam, said Dr. Victor Levine, a Wailua Homesteads resident in charge of the Internet-usage and telecommuting study on Kauai for UH.

Levine can be reached at 823-1240 or

An initial meeting regarding the Internet-usage survey is set for this Friday, June 6, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Radisson Kauai Beach Resort. Roger Jacobs of DataSpace Industries will discuss broadband access, and pupus will be served. Those completing the online surveys will qualify to win prizes including a weekend trip for two to Molokai.

Telecommuting offers Kauaians a way to diversify the island’s economy without having adverse impacts on already stressed island roads and other infrastructure, Levine said.

Any telecommuting, or Internet usage at home that keeps even one in five cars off local roads, even once a week, would help traffic congestion, said Gary Heu, administrative assistant to Baptiste.

Levine said building on the success of the island’s high-technology industry that exists largely because of the things going on at the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands near Kekaha, the island could develop a reputation as a place for high-tech individuals and companies to locate or relocate.

The Internet is used by nearly every business owner on Kauai, especially those using the World Wide Web to lure visitors to their properties or attractions.

Levine further sees the study as a starting block for an experiment in strengthening civil participation, with the Internet as a low-cost instrument capable of providing immediate response and feedback from constituents and customers, he said.

“Kauai could be a model for this type of response and governance,” he said.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 224).


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