Leitze: Students Need Faculty Relationships to Make a Connection

Ann Leitze seated in an office with laptop

For just one student in North Dakota, Ann Leitze, professor of mathematical sciences and graduate advisor, began teaching online.

In the fall of 2009, she chose to admit the student and teach in a hybrid format, virtually to her online student and face-to-face to main-campus students. Her goal was to grow the online MA in mathematics education. Today, she routinely has 85-90 students enrolled online each semester in the MA’s three concentrations, two graduate certificates, and another MA.

“Without a relationship with the professor and classmates, many [students] do not feel comfortable reaching out to the professor—or classmates—for help.”

Led by Lifelong Love of Learning

“Having online math programs available is absolutely necessary for Indiana math educators to pursue graduate study,” Ann says, noting that a “lifelong love of learning” drew her to graduate study and eventually teaching at the university level.

She says about 50 percent of her graduate students are Indiana teachers. “For many years, Indiana teachers pursuing graduate study were few and far between,” she recalls. Although she sees progress, she thinks a need remains for teachers with advanced degrees.

Ann is proud of the success in growing Ball State’s graduate math education program, which offers concentrations for elementary and middle school mathematics teachers, secondary school teachers, and elementary or middle school mathematics education specialists as well as the master’s in foundational mathematics teaching in the community college.

License for Specialists Approved

She’s happy to report that the third concentration, for elementary or middle school mathematics education specialists, was recently approved by the State of Indiana as the only program in the state leading to a new Indiana license for elementary mathematics specialists.

As graduate advisor for math education, she wants online students to know that professors support them.

Says Relationships Required

“Without a relationship with the professor and classmates, many of them do not feel comfortable reaching out to the professor—or classmates—for help,” she says.

Ann says she sets high standards for her students.

“I challenge them to perform to their full capacity,” she says. “I want my students not only to have an understanding of mathematics at the appropriate level, but also to have familiarity with appropriate models and methods for teaching mathematics.”

Believes Her Role is Mentoring, Modeling

She believes her primary professional role includes both mentoring and modeling.

“I push myself to model best teaching practices for both students and junior faculty,” she says.

Earlier in her Ball State career, Ann led the Elementary Urban Semester, working with K-12 teachers in underprivileged schools. Designed to integrate science and mathematics at the elementary school and university levels, the program received the 2002 School Science and Mathematics Association Award for Excellence in Integrating Science and Mathematics and the 2004 American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Best Practice Award in Support of Diversity.

DoDEA Educator Earns 4 Graduate Degrees from Halfway Across the World

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.”

Online Master of Music Student Working on Grad School Memories

Middle school music teacher and Ball State graduate student Haley Muller uses the word “memories” so often you’d think she was about to retire.

During her sophomore year as a music education major at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., she toured the U.S. and Spain with the Millikin University Choir.

“That is the absolute best performance memory I will likely ever have,” she says, explaining that three back-to-back years with the Choir was “her most prized memory.”

One of Her Favorite Memories

She conducted her first musical, Violet, during her senior year of college. “One of my favorite memories,” adds the choral and music director for Northview Middle School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Having performed in 22 community theatre productions since third grade and with such a full undergraduate experience, Haley wondered if graduate school, particularly online, could ever compare.

Although online students never need to come to campus, Haley’s teaching position had put her just an hour and minutes from Muncie, home to Ball State University. She decided to visit.

I knew that this is where I wanted to be pretty quickly,” she says. “Ball State impressed me immediately.

As did professor Don Ester, professor of music education and coordinator of the master’s in music with a concentration in music education.

“I Knew He Was A Sincere Educator”

“I knew that he was a sincere educator who wanted to genuinely impact current music educators,” says Haley. “His kindness and knowledge spoke volumes. He even let me sit in on one of his courses, which gave me insight to what classes would truly be like.”

Memories of her undergraduate faculty, who today treat her like a professional colleague, had set the bar high for graduate faculty.

What stands out about Ball State’s online classes are the amount of time the professors take to really engage students, give clear instructions, and most importantly, give strong feedback,” says Haley.

Faculty Encourage and Challenge

As a new music educator, she was worried whether she had the experience to do the program.

But Dr. Ester saw my strengths, praised my hard work, and encouraged me,” she says. “He encourages his students so efficiently while also challenging them. He always helps students to discover information on their own.

Likewise Dr. Kevin Gerrity associate director and coordinator of undergraduate music programs. “Dr. Gerrity has helped me a lot with research,” she says. “He is also great at being vulnerable and personable with his students.”

Now in her third semester, Haley is enthusiastic about her graduate school experience, even during the pandemic.

She’s Loved Conversations, Collaborations

“I’ve been able to have a lot of great conversations with other students in my classes about different ideas and possibilities during virtual and hybrid learning,” she says. “I have loved the collaboration!”

Haley also loves teaching in public schools. But her future might hold the possibility of a doctorate and teaching on a college campus.

I am enjoying what I learn every single day about myself and my teaching abilities. My professors and my courses have been an excellent fit for me,” she says. “I still feel welcomed and a part of the Ball State family from the comfort of my own home!

A Day in the Life: CTE Student Balances Teaching and Weathercasting Careers

Because Bryan Schuerman has two careers to maintain and because he’s a full-time student in the Ball State Online master’s in career and technical education, his feet hit the floor squarely each morning at 2 a.m.

From 2:30 a.m. until 12 noon, he works as weekday morning and mid-day meteorologist for WICS ABC News Channel 20 and WRSP FOX Illinois in Springfield, Illinois, prepping his forecasts and taping cut-ins for Good Morning America. He goes live from 5 to 7 a.m. on ABC and 7 to 8 a.m. on FOX. He also fills in as lifestyle anchor and producer.

His work has earned the coveted National Weather Association Weathercaster Seal of Approval.

Then He Heads to Class

From the studio, Bryan heads to his second career as a family and consumer science teacher at a nearby high school, where he teaches nutrition and culinary arts classes from 12 to 3:30 p.m.

For professionals like myself who are juggling not one, but two careers, I can fit in the time to make a degree happen at my pace,” he says, of the CTE program offered fully online.

“After I got my teacher’s license and graduated with my master of education degree, I always kept an eye out for any family and consumer science teacher postings,” says Bryan.

Among multiple areas, Bryan is certified to teach middle school science for grades 5-9, journalism, radio and TV broadcasting for grades 9-12, and family and consumer sciences 5-12.

CTE Program is Filling in the Blanks

He says the family and consumer sciences license provided just a “snippet” of what is needed to teach family and consumer sciences.

This program is helping me ‘fill in the blanks’ that I did not get specifically from family and consumer sciences to make me a more, well-rounded teacher,” says Bryan, who is pursuing the family and consumer sciences concentration.

Ball State’s program is ideal, he says, for people who want “the basics of how to administer a CTE program, as well as instructional strategies to make us better educators in the classroom.”

“CTE Encompasses Many Careers”

He’s also learning how comprehensive the CTE field can be.

I have interacted and shared learning experiences with students who are teaching dental assistant classes, audiology classes and more,” says Bryan. “While the course work we are learning in this program is broad enough to encompass all types of career and technical education, the professors let us take that knowledge and apply it to what we are individually teaching.

The pandemic has been a factor, he says. Through online forums, his classmates are sharing their experiences of teaching career and technical education courses remotely for the first time.

“We all know, we are ‘writing the playbook’ for remote learning right now,” says Bryan. “So listening to ideas from other classmates and bouncing my experiences off them has been a very pleasant experience.”

First Graduate of Sustainability Certificate, Roberto Fayad, Imagines the Impossible

Like many students, Roberto Fayad pursued the online graduate certificate in sustainability to launch his professional career and because of his passion for the principles of sustainability.

But unlike many others, he accomplished this while working on his bachelor’s in architecture.

Completing his certificate in 2020 earned him the proud distinction of being the first official alumnus of a program based on examining how current world needs can be met without compromising the resources needed by future populations.

Says Systematic Balance is Key

Roberto says it’s all about considering the interaction of economic, social, and environmental factors to achieve a systematic balance.

“With this certification, I am better equipped for my field,” says Roberto, who is now based in Chicago. “I hope firms that want to progress their architecture/design towards the future can see how sustainability is now a very important consideration.”

The 12-credit graduate certificate offers three focus areas, including environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

He Sees Return of Nature to Cities

“I strive to learn the true balance of nature and how an optimal functioning future could work, in terms of design overall,” says Roberto, who followed the environmental focus area. “I like to think of the bigger picture. I have a new and growing passion for urban design and sustainable cities, and I see the return of nature into the city in creating a new urban scape.”

For his bachelor’s thesis, entitled The Self-Sustaining City, he designed a mixed-use high-rise in the Lincoln Yards development in Chicago, Illinois. The thesis “explored the design of self-sufficient eco-blocks as an approach for cities to reduce the energy and resource footprint with the urban landscape.”

“Future is in Adaptable Designs”

“As our future depends on the existence of this planet, we designers and architects must strive to make our designs more adaptable and caring towards our planet, the people, and its economy,” says Roberto. “I firmly believe that the future of my field is in producing more mixed-use options, especially in an urban environment.”

He believes the program gave him “a greater knowledge and appreciation of how our world works and how there seems to be a balance that we must seek in terms of a sustainable future.”

Roberto particularly appreciated courses in ecological systems, material resources and waste, food systems, and energy resources.

Sustainability Courses Run for Five Weeks

Unlike many courses, graduate certificate courses in sustainability run for five weeks and provide one credit per course.

“Although the classes were only one credit, the work load was close to a normal three-credit elective course one would take on campus,” says Roberto, who finished the certificate in just three semesters.

“These courses have helped open my eyes to precedents in each field, their progression towards reducing waste and becoming more renewable to benefit the natural systems of this planet,” he says.

Roberto admits to being a dreamer.

He Imagines the Impossible

“My imagination always loves to wander, to imagine the ‘impossible.’ I look up to many famous designers/architects across the globe and hope that one day, I can be amongst the list of great designers in this world,” he says.

Not that he’s seeking a lifestyle of power and riches.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my faith in God, my mentors, and my family and friends,” he says. “I hope that one day, I can look back and say that a program like this is what started it all and how it has not only made an impact on my own life, but the life of others as well as the planet.”

Impressed by CTE Programs, HVAC-R Professional Steps on to Community College Track

While growing up in North Carolina, Bruce Perry spent hours hanging out with his Uncle Willie Parker Jr., repairing tractors, lawn mowers, and various other vehicles. It might have seemed like normal boyhood fun to Bruce, but as the Ball State graduate student now understands, he was doing some serious job shadowing with his late uncle.

“His mentorship, abilities, education, skill, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding influenced me greatly,” recalls Bruce, of Uncle Willie’s career influence.

Bruce had the opportunity to perform multiple building trades and construction under the watchful eyes of this family mentor.

Today Bruce is an HVAC-R Service Technician with more than 20 years’ experience in maintenance and operations for school districts and casinos. He lives in southern California and is pursuing Ball State’s online master’s degree in career and technical education.

Needed Challenge After Earning Bachelor’s

Bruce was finishing his bachelor’s in career and technical studies at California State University-San Bernardino (CSUSB) in 2019, when he decided to enhance his personal development, complement his skills and experience—and give himself a challenge.

He began by comparing other graduate programs to CSUSB.

“When I saw Ball State’s CTE graduate programs, I saw many technical and practical programs that would complement my skillset and work experience,” says Bruce.

“I chose the community college and industrial trainer’s track because I like teaching, learning, helping students, and encouraging them to constantly learn in practical ways that will help them succeed in life and the workplace.”

Outstanding Instructors Inspired Him to Teach

While working as a senior heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanic for Desert Community College in Palm Desert, California, Bruce earned associate of arts and associate of science degrees.

“I was inspired by good instructors to teach,” he says. Bruce has also been inspired by Ball State professors Edward Lazaros, Dr. Allen Truell, and Richard Seymour. “I’ve had excellent Q&A sessions with my professors.”

Technology Discoveries Have Been Highlight

Other highlights of the CTE program for Bruce have included learning the history of career and technical education, discovering how technology can improve teaching and workplace productivity, and using interactive space to interact academically and socially with classmates in a collaborating environment.

Bruce plans to finish classes by summer of 2021 and then make the cross country journey to campus to receive his degree.

After graduating from Ball State’s CTE program, Bruce hopes to once again be on the job and in the classroom: “My motivation is to be an engineering director of a facility and teach at a community college as a HVAC-R instructor.”

Summer Job Leads Alissa M. to Career in Early Childhood

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.”

Combining a Love for People and Data With Quantitative Psychology

After graduating from Weber State in 2012 with his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Mike Nguyen took time off to pursue his career. It wasn’t long before he felt the “itch” to go back to school. But finding the right graduate program proved to be a little challenging.

Even though Mike’s work as a consumer insights consultant for Intermountain Healthcare, the largest healthcare system in Utah, deals heavily with data analytics, he still pulls from his psychology background to draw insights from research to discover what consumers are thinking. It’s his love for people that drew him to Ball State University’s online master’s in quantitative psychology.

“A lot of my friends pursued MBAs or MHAs, which they recommended to me. And, while those programs made sense for someone who works in analytics, they didn’t feel right,” says Mike.

 

“I was looking for the perfect combination of people and data – I was looking for something like quantitative psychology.”

 

Sensed Hesitation

It didn’t make sense for Mike and his husband to uproot for his education, especially with their full-time careers, an assistant coaching position, a newly built home, and his in-laws all residing in Utah. But Mike’s friends who completed their graduate degrees online weren’t necessarily convincing him that this was the way to go for his own education.

“They described feeling unattached from their schools and being unable to get to know their professors. I didn’t want that experience,” says Mike.

Mike was unsure if an online education would provide the same connection as an in-classroom experience. He also had concerns about time management and receiving the proper attention from professors. Still, he made the decision to reach out to Dr. Holmes Finch for more information about the online master’s in quantitative psychology degree.

“Maybe Dr. Finch sensed my hesitation, as he was quick to resolve my concerns,” says Mike.

Dr. Finch shared that there wouldn’t be a single deciding factor to Mike’s decision, so he took a hard look into the qualifiers he set for choosing a university and its online graduate programs.

The university Mike would attend needed to be non-profit, have an on-campus presence, be engaged in research, and it had to be at least 100 years old. Ball State checked off all of those boxes.

Being an assistant high school boys’ volleyball coach, having a Division I men’s volleyball team to cheer for during his studies was, as Mike puts it, “the cherry on top.”

Connected Across Time Zones

After Mike was accepted into the program he was quick to follow the University’s social media accounts and subscribe to a Ball State sub-Reddit to keep up with the student community. And, of course, he made sure to follow the men’s’ volleyball team throughout their season.

“These things made me feel like I was a part of the student body, even though I was two time zones away,” says Mike.

Mike also attributes the faculty he worked with, particularly Dr. Finch, for the connection he felt to the University and the success he had as a student. Dr. Finch was not only one of Mike’s professors but also his advisor, and always met him with the same excitement for learning and understanding of course materials. He also made a conscious effort to group students by time zones to make collaboration easier for schedules.

“As his student, he was always happy to answer my questions – and I had a lot of questions,” Mike remembers. “He has a mentor-like quality to how he approaches students. And, despite how much I felt like Bambi trying to learn how to walk on the ice with my statistics courses, he was excellent at coaching me along.”

Applicable Education

Mike took a quick inventory of his current skillset and of those needed to achieve his career aspirations. His interests were leading him more and more in the direction of statistics and survey design – both of which he needed advanced knowledge to become a leader in his field.

Throughout his studies, he found that the education he was receiving could be applied to his current job immediately, and on a daily basis at that. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he frequently used his new quantitative and qualitative skills to understand Utahns’ thoughts and behaviors at a given time. The insights they gained from survey responses helped to shape statewide campaigns that encouraged Utahns to wear masks.

Mike’s skills also expand into continuing medical education research as well. His statistical work as a second author on a research paper will hopefully soon be published in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

Mike graduated in May 2020 and made plans to travel to campus to attend Spring Commencement. However, plans shifted once Ball State had to postpone Commencement due to the pandemic. Mike still celebrated his achievements and plans to visit the University at a later time.

For those who are considering earning their degree online, he offers this bit of advice:

“Ignore any perceived stigma [about online programs]. You will find that, in many ways, it is a lot harder. You have to push yourself harder and be disciplined,” he says. “Most importantly, you’ll get what you give – so, give it your all.”

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