It was summer and college-bound Alissa Mwenelupembe needed a job. Her mother suggested she go up the street to a child care center since “she liked kids.”

Twenty years later, having devoted her life’s energies to teaching, coaching, directing, volunteering, advocating, consulting, and researching early childhood education, Alissa still likes kids.

Alissa realized she’d found her field after a couple of career-entry jobs in early childhood education. When she decided to pursue a master’s degree that specialized in child development, the closest one was in Chicago, several hours from her home and workplace in Evansville, Indiana. As a Hoosier educator, she knew that Ball State offered innovative and reputable online programs in education.

‘Online Essential for People Like Me’

“Online learning is essential for people like me who don’t have an opportunity to attend a program nearby and are working full time,” says Alissa, who eventually learned that she could pursue a fully online master’s in elementary education with a concentration in early childhood education. “Ball State met my needs 100 percent.”

For all the advantages of online programs, Alissa felt they had one drawback. “They can be lonely!” she says.

But that didn’t prevent her from making a life-changing connection with one of her professors, Dr. Linda Taylor, assistant professor of early childhood, youth, and family studies.

Met Online Mentor Face to Face

“One year I was presenting at a conference in Indianapolis, and Dr. Taylor was waiting outside of the room to meet me face to face,” says Alissa. “That was probably the most meaningful thing that happened to me during my program.”

Dr. Taylor has continued to mentor her throughout her career, she says.

Today, Alissa is the inclusion specialist with SPARK Learning Lab, a statewide technical assistance provider for Indiana early childhood education programs. In this role, she is creating tools and resources for early childhood educators across the state of Indiana.

Inclusion Drives Her Research

“Inclusion is so important to me,” says Alissa, whose research interests cover social-emotional development of Black children, primarily those living in families and communities that are not a racial match.

Convinced that Ball State is the advanced education option for Indiana educators, she is now pursuing an online Ed.D. in elementary education with an emphasis in early childhood education and cognates in diversity studies and adult education.

Alissa is co-editor of Each and Every Childhood: Teaching Pre-School with an Equity Lens, which explores topics ranging from how teachers can examine personal biases to guiding children’s conversations about identity and equity.

Provides Consulting for Today’s Educators

She also conducts workshops, presentations, and keynote talks through her private consulting firm, We Are Better Together Consulting.

“I enjoy helping teachers reflect on their work and administrators dream of new ways to retain and motivate their staff,” she says. “I believe that when directors have a strong vision, their programs will succeed.”

Says ‘Now is Moment’ for Early Childhood

After serving various roles with the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Alissa today is a member of the Council for NAEYC Accreditation Programs for Young Children and says “right now is our moment.”

“NAEYC, and other organizations supporting early childhood educators, have come together to create a movement called ‘Power to the Profession,’ ” she says. “The goal of P2P is to professionalize the field of early childhood education so that our educators get the respect and pay that they deserve.”