DoDEA Educator Earns 4 Graduate Degrees from Halfway Across the World

Rachel Geesa with Dr. William Sharp and Dr. Serena Salloum, all wearing academic regalia

As an alumna and assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Ball State University, I am confident that I made the right decision in choosing this institution to become a successful educational leader, administrator, and scholar.

I grew up in the Indianapolis area, and after graduating with my bachelor’s degree in education, I came back to the area to begin my teaching career. After a few years, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach at a United States Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA)-Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) middle school on a United States Army Garrison in Seoul, South Korea. With a passion for learning and traveling overseas, I began an enlightening career of teaching military children, serving United States military families, collaborating with educators and school leaders, and expanding my knowledge of Asian cultures.

Reputable and Rigorous Online Graduate Degrees

During the latter part of my first school year in South Korea, I decided to pursue a degree and license to become a school administrator. Searches for reputable and rigorous online graduate education degrees led me to Ball State Online. I was familiar with Ball State’s reputation in Indiana and throughout the country. I was thrilled to be admitted into the Department of Educational Leadership master of arts in education in educational administration and supervision (MAE) and building-level administrator licensure programs.

The opportunity to study online at Ball State University was ideal for my situation. Although I was living on the other side of the world, I taught children with DoDEA standards. My professors at Ball State designed courses to best meet the needs of practitioner-scholars. I could do my job as a teacher each day and complete my Ball State coursework as a student during the evenings and weekends.

The coursework was relevant to my work as a teacher and emerging educational leader in the school, and I found myself wanting to take more courses and pursue more degrees. Following the end of the first year of coursework for the MAE, I began taking courses towards a master of arts in educational psychology and a gifted and talented education add-on license. The coursework was practical and relevant to my school and me. I felt rewarded by learning opportunities that I had due to guidance from professors and expectations within individual courses.

By the end of my third year as a Ball State graduate student, while living and teaching overseas, I also decided to pursue a specialist in education in educational administration and supervision (EdS) with a district-level administrator license as well as a doctor of education (EdD) in educational administration and supervision. Although my being an online doctoral student abroad was new to the Ball State faculty, every professor was extremely helpful and communicative throughout my programs.

During two years of rigorous internships for my building- and district-level administrator licenses, I had helpful and meaningful dialogue, experiences, and opportunities to learn with building- and district-level leaders. The internship projects also challenged me to focus on educational leadership in multiple aspects such as management, vision, and culture with teachers, administrators, students, and school and community stakeholders. These practices prepared me to be a more rounded and confident incoming school leader.

At the beginning of my fifth year in South Korea, I received a promotion as the assistant principal of a DoDEA middle school on a United States Naval Base in Japan. I was ready for this new challenge because of the preparation I received from my Ball State professors, particularly from the guidance of the Department of Educational Leadership faculty.

Faculty and Advisor Support Across Time Zones

While living and working in Japan for two years, I wrote my doctoral dissertation and completed all required coursework online. My dissertation chair and I met via web conference to talk about my writing progress regularly. We became accustomed to meeting late at night or early in the morning due to the time difference between Japan and Indiana.

Additionally, my doctoral advisor was always responsive and helpful when I needed additional support or had questions about my program. When I completed the EdD degree, I had the pleasure and honor of returning to Indiana from Japan to graduate and be hooded as a “Doctor” by two professors who supported me throughout the program. It was such a special day for my family and me. I was humbled to learn that some of the teachers and specialists at my school in Japan watched the commencement ceremony online!

Applying Her EdD to Her Career

After earning the EdD, I worked as the gifted resources specialist at a DoDEA elementary school in Quantico, Virginia. My education and skills acquired as a DoDEA teacher and administrator were extremely useful to me in this position. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with all students as they gained skills to be successful in the 21st century. My fellow educators and I focused on integrative STEM education approaches and College and Career Ready Standards to best prepare students for their futures. This opportunity gave me new insights into the needs of teachers and leaders of 21st century learners.

Towards the end of the school year, I felt ready to teach and guide educators and educational leaders to excellence in education within higher education. After talking with my dissertation chair, I learned that a position opened in the Department of Educational Leadership at Ball State, and I applied for it. The university made an offer, and I accepted an assistant professor position within the department that supported me for so many years.

To become a faculty member in the Department of Educational Leadership was an honor. Although I had a unique experience as an online doctoral student abroad, I was welcomed, mentored, and supported by the faculty as I made the transition from working in PK-12 education to higher education.

Achieving New Goals

During the past six years, I have taught courses, supervised principal interns, advised students, implemented program recruitment strategies, designed and led doctoral peer mentoring programs, worked with colleagues and developed an integrative STEM education course and book, received grants, published peer-reviewed articles, presented peer-review papers, and collaborated with colleagues throughout the college and within other institutions. The work that I have completed and continue to do at Ball State inspires me, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have at this institution.

I have focused on international studies, creative thinking, and educational leadership throughout my higher education and work in schools. Before I began working for DoDEA or taking courses through Ball State Online, I set a goal. My goal was to take undergraduate or graduate students overseas to study education systems. I wrote this goal in a notebook and shared the goal with friends and family members. I believed I could achieve this goal if I continued to work hard towards it every day.

In 2018, Ball State provided me the opportunity to achieve this goal by accompanying Ball State student teachers to Ramstein, Germany, during the fall semester of that year. I was the university supervisor while the student teachers complete their student teaching semester at DoDEA schools on the United States Air Force and Army bases in Germany.

Now, I am the Director of International Programs for Teachers College and work with faculty to develop and implement meaningful partnerships worldwide and within DoDEA. The relevant knowledge and practical experiences that I gained as a DoDEA teacher and administrator, Ball State student, and assistant professor have prepared me to be an effective leader and educator in multiple capacities. I look forward to future opportunities.

Dr. Rachel Geesa,
MA ‘12
MAE ‘13
EdS ‘13
EdD ‘14

Online Doctorate Offers Rigor and Flexibility to DoDEA Educator Making 5 International Moves

As a former military spouse, I served the United States Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), Child and Youth Services, and The University of Phoenix (UOP) in Cuba, Korea, Germany, and Italy for over eleven years in a variety of teaching and administrative positions. As an alumnus of Ball State University, it is apparent that I made the right decision in choosing Ball State Online to become a successful teacher leader, administrator, and college professor.

During my fifth year in Korea, I decided to pursue a doctorate in education with an emphasis in special education from Ball State with a friend’s urging. I had researched long hours looking for reputable and rigorous online graduate education programs. I looked into programs in Southern California to include my alma mater; however, I was unable to find a program that mixed high rigor with flexible access to the learning platform. As a current faculty member of UOP, I qualify for a significant discount but was attracted to the quality, depth of program rigor, and faculty involvement found in Ball State’s educational programs that were not available at many programs I researched.

Faculty and Advisor Support

My professors and advisors helped design a program that enabled me to succeed without stepping onto the campus until graduation. I taught for DoDEA during the instructional day and the UOP in the evening while completing my coursework during nights and weekends. I did everything from lectures to testing to defending my dissertation via an online learning format.

Additionally, my doctoral advisor was always responsive and helpful when I needed additional support or had questions about my program. I finished the first half of my doctoral program while living in Korea, including the first half of my internship, and I completed the second half of my program while living in Las Vegas, Nevada. I finished all my research for my dissertation and the second half of my internship in Southern California, where I focused my research on High Achieving Title I Schools in Southern California. As is apparent in the multiple locations where I lived during my education, Ball State Online’s flexibility supported my diverse lifestyle.

I had the pleasure and honor of stepping foot on the historic grounds of Ball State to graduate and be hooded as first an education specialist and a year later as a doctor by Dr. Marilyn Quick (who supported me throughout the program). It was such a special day for my family as I am the first to earn a doctorate.

Setting and Achieving Goals

Before I began working for DoDEA or taking courses from Ball State Online, I set a goal. My goal was to focus my continued education on improving myself as a teacher leader by filling in any “gaps” from my teacher education program. Whenever I interviewed for a new position in education, I shared this goal with my prospective employer. I believed I could achieve this goal if I continued to work hard towards it every day.

Ball State allowed me to fulfill this goal by customizing and tailoring my learning program to become a well-rounded educator. By doing so, I added the knowledge of the superintendent’s position, and special education content mastery that I felt was missing before beginning with Ball State Online. The relevant knowledge and practical experiences that I gained as a DoDEA teacher and administrator, Ball State student, and adjunct professor have prepared me to be an effective leader and educator in multiple capacities. I am grateful for the opportunities that I had at this institution.

Moving into my eighth year of teaching for the UOP, the university phased out professors without master’s degrees. Earning my doctorate and education specialist degree prepared me for the higher rigor expected from the developing university. After earning my EdD, I worked as a gifted resource specialist and English teacher in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada. After that experience, I accepted a gifted position in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and continue to teach for UOP.

Dr. Cameron Gonzales, EdD ‘14

Friesen’s Passion is Helping Others Make Healthier Food Choices

Change is coming to the field of nutrition and dietetics and professor Carol Friesen is ready for it.

Graduate program director for Ball State Online’s master of science in nutrition and dietetics, Carol anticipates an increase in enrollment since the Commission on Dietetic Registration has raised the minimum education required for prospective Registered Dietitians. Beginning in 2024, students will have to hold a graduate degree to sit for the national registration examination.

“We have developed a flexible online master’s degree for current dietitians who want to complete a degree while working,” says Carol, referring to the accrediting agency Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.

Inspired by a Teacher’s Suggestion

Carol, who has taught at Ball State since 1996, says she decided to become a dietitian in high school at the suggestion of a teacher.

“My passion has always been to help people from all walks of life learn how to make healthier food choices for themselves and their families,” she says.

Since choosing a career in higher education, she has published 39 articles, presented more than 90 peer-reviewed research posters, given 46 oral presentations, written chapters to nine books, and received 38 grants funded totaling $2.26 million.

Research Focuses on Nutrition Education

Most of her research has focused on nutrition education projects that seek to reduce childhood obesity, with a special interest in early childhood education; increase mothers’ breastfeeding incidence and duration; help families prepare and serve healthy, low-cost meals; and improve the nutrient intake and nutrition knowledge of individuals for use in schools, at home, and the workplace.

“Our graduate faculty are all engaged in research, putting them on the cutting edge of knowledge in their specific domains,” says Carol. “Each of us take pains to provide individualized feedback to help each student become better tomorrow than they were yesterday.”

Carol says her online colleagues are keenly aware they are teaching working adults.

Profs Prepared for Evening Emails

“Our faculty are great about keeping an eye on emails in the evening and on weekends when non-traditional students squeeze in their studies,” she says. “Let’s face it, the chances are pretty good that you are going to have a question outside the time frame of 8-5 Monday through Friday.”

Until recently, the graduate nutrition and dietetics program was only offered on campus.

When classes were moved online, says Carol, the student demand for the program “skyrocketed.” The recent implementation of the “Prior Learning Policy,” where current dietitians can earn up to nine graduate credits, if they did not receive graduate credit for their supervised practice, is also helping make graduate school more attainable and achievable for our adult students.

More Students Fulfill Goal Online

“While I truly miss interacting with our students in a classroom setting, knowing the flexibility of online education helps more students fulfill their goal of obtaining a master’s degree and advance in their career as a registered dietitian nutritionist more than makes up for missing that ‘in class’ vibe,” she says.

Although Ball State’s program provides an ideal opportunity for RDNs, Carol says she worries about current dietitians who have not earned their master’s degree.

“Ultimately the job market may not be kind to registered dietitian-nutritionists who do not have a graduate degree,” she says. “I hope our online program will provide the flexibility current dietitians need to achieve their degree.”

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