Ashton Keck, a 2018 graduate of Ball State University, is no stranger to adventure or hard work. Currently working in Costa Rica, she uses her Master’s in Educational Psychology to help and teach students with diverse education needs, particularly those on the autism spectrum or who have behavioral or mental health concerns.
Her travels have taken her all around the world, which is why Ball State Online was the perfect fit for her.
“I was living a nontraditional lifestyle at the time, so what really stuck out to me was the flexibility of the program and the responsiveness of my teachers and advisors,” she says.
“I started my master’s while working as a behavior strategist in the United States. Then, I moved to a remote jungle in Panama. The teachers were always understanding if there were power outages or something else going on when I was living in the jungle.”
From Rocky Starts to Stellar Teacher
Prior to coming to Ball State, Keck was a self-described “behavior kid” and had special schooling because of that. Growing up with her own issues made her want to help others with similar struggles.
“I kind of got where they were coming from,” she says when speaking about the student population she wanted to work with.
However, her personal experiences weren’t the only thing to drive her desire to teach special education. There is a demand for educators with specialized knowledge and skills to work with students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
“I like challenges,” Keck explains.
“I knew when I was becoming a teacher that I wanted to travel the world and teach. I didn’t have a specific place that I wanted to go to—it was kind of like one of those throw-a-dart-on-a-map situations,” says Keck.
Her Ball State education prepared her where real-world experience didn’t. What she learned at Ball State was a solid basis for what to do in the classroom when there was nobody around to provide guidance.
“[My education at Ball State] really prepared me,” says Keck, “because when [traveling and teaching internationally], you could end up at a school that has no curriculum, or you could end up at a school with a curriculum and iPads. I was really grateful to have such a strong background both with my special education, the educational psychology, and my applied behavior analysis (ABA), because I didn’t have a lot of guidance at a lot of the schools I worked at.”
“I worked at various schools in Latin America where we sometimes did not have a curriculum or books to follow. Unfortunately, support was at times minimal from the administration, and as teachers, we had to do a lot of work that, in the public system in the U.S., others would be in charge of,” says Keck.
“Since I was studying Educational Psychology at the time, I had a pretty good starting point on how to design my classes so that my students could learn in a way that was meaningful. Studying various cognitive and learning theory principles helped me to create lessons that were effective and engaging to my students.”
Advice for Students
If there is any bit of advice Keck would give to prospective and current Ball State students pursuing online education, it would be the same advice she tells her students: talk to your teachers.
“[The professors] are super helpful and understanding. I think a lot of students who are going online are maybe not having the most traditional schooling experience,” says Keck, “so I would recommend not being a stranger. Just because we’re behind screens doesn’t mean we don’t build connections.”
Breaks in the Outdoors
Of course, everybody needs a break every now and then, and for Keck, one advantage of her travels is that she constantly has new vistas to explore.
“I’m a big nerd when it comes to outdoor sports,” she says.
An avid ultrarunner, Keck says those are her favorite types of runs; she recently ran a 100-mile race through Big Horn, Wyoming. When life takes you all over the world, sometimes you’ve got to seize the moment and put on some tennis shoes and run.