CTE Grad Talks Up Family, Consumer Sciences on Rachael Ray Show

Nick Zimmerman on set with Rachael Ray

Photo courtesy of The Rachael Ray Show

Nic Zimmerman, a middle school teacher in the state of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, frequently shows Rachael Ray cooking videos in his family and consumer science classes.

Last fall, the hostess of “The Rachael Ray Show” returned the favor and invited him to demonstrate for her TV audience the correct way to cut vegetables.

A graduate of the Ball State Online master’s in career and technical education (CTE) and the family and consumer science track, Nic says Rachael Ray had caught his attention because he thinks his students and their families can relate to her.

“She takes complex recipes and makes them simple. She also takes simple recipes and makes them complex,” says Nic.

Show Was Opportunity to Advocate

His appearance on her show also gave him a national platform.

“The most exciting part of the experience was to advocate for our profession of family and consumer sciences,” he says. Nic told Rachael Ray viewers there are 27,000 FCS teachers in the country but that many more are needed.

“We are teaching essential life skills and preparing our students and community members to be successful as an individual, in their families, and ultimately as a part of their communities,” says Nic, who serves as adviser of his school’s Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) organization.

After Nic earned his bachelor’s in family and consumer sciences at Bridgewater College, also located in Shenandoah Valley, he began his teaching career and eventually sought a master’s program.

How a Virginia Teacher Found Ball State

Nic said several factors led him to Ball State Online: Professional contacts in Indiana vouched for the program. The program was less expensive, compared to others. And a couple professors were his designated points of contact for information.

For those who are considering CTE programs, this is one of program’s “most astounding features,” says Nic. “I engaged in prompt email conversations with them, and on several occasions they communicated with me via phone.”

Nic says he may have learned more about teaching than content knowledge through the program.

“Much of what I believed about CTE from undergrad was reconstructed mentally as I progressed through my master’s degree, he says. “I had to step back and complete my assignments as I was ‘thinking about the way I was thinking’ and about the way I engaged in teaching family and consumer science classes.”

Says Classmate Diversity Was Benefit

Nic said he benefited from the diversity of fields in which his online classmates worked.

“The opportunity to engage with classmates from a wide variety of perspectives was the ultimate highlight of the online platform,” he says. “Everyone shared a passion and a love for CTE. That transcends boundaries and enhanced the ability for us to grow together as an online community.”

Although Ball State Online programs require no visits to campus, Nic chose to make the eight-hour, 500-mile drive from Shenandoah County to Muncie, Ind., in the summer of 2019, to take the commencement walk. Even though he was seeing the university for the first time, he felt at home. “I felt like I had been on campus for years,” he says.

Sees Future as Curriculum Specialist

Nic plans to eventually pursue a position as a CTE curriculum specialist for a school district, noting that the Ball State curriculum encouraged collaboration with other areas such as the curriculum track.

Nic says the master’s has equipped him to help develop curriculum materials for the school division. “I’ve already had the opportunity to help write our district’s CTE class manual,” he says.

Learn more about our Master’s in Career and Technical education.

Heflin: Ball State Has Strong Appreciation for FCS Education

Nikki Heflin was just a child, working alongside Mom in her catering business, when she got her first taste of the food industry.

“I began learning about the food service industry at a young age,” says Heflin, family and consumer sciences (FCS) teacher at Westfield High School in Westfield, Indiana. “I worked for Mom then went on to work in a country club and later a steakhouse.”

Because of her fascination for the food industry, she decided to pursue her undergraduate degree at Purdue University in hospitality and tourism management. But, after graduation, she settled into a sales career, which eventually left her “unfulfilled professionally.” That’s when a school counselor friend suggested that Heflin consider teaching FCS courses so she could share her considerable knowledge of the hospitality and food service industry.

To make that happen, she pursued Purdue’s transition to teaching program and earned her teaching license. That same year, Heflin stepped into a classroom at Westfield. She quickly assumed a leadership role in restructuring the FCS program, which included writing curriculum and adding new culinary and nutrition courses.

But she also wanted to learn more about family and consumer science legislation, policies, funding, and licensure. That’s when she looked into Ball State’s master of arts in career and technical education (CTE), offered fully online.

“Ball State is one of the few schools in the state of Indiana that licenses family and consumer science education and has a strong appreciation and understanding of FCS education,” she says. Heflin is pursuing the FCS track, one of eight degree options offered through the CTE program.

The CTE program helped her realize the importance of hands-on, project-based learning, says Heflin. It also inspired her to connect with members of the food service community to form partnerships.

“We recently had a local butcher come in to teach students how to fabricate a whole chicken eight ways,” says Heflin. “We also took a field trip to a sustainable farm and had lunch made with ingredients directly from the farm.”

Her students have catered homemade recipes to more than 300 people, and Westfield’s chapter of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Foodies Rock, the career and technical student organization for FCS, is doing more than 30 community service events this year.

Heflin says the CTE program gave her the chance to take electives related to her content area of nutrition and the culinary arts. She teaches three nutrition courses at Westfield.

Like most online students, Heflin is finding that the online format is ideal for balancing her career and family life.

“The online delivery of each course encourages interaction with fellow classmates through discussion forums and group projects,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about the other content areas within CTE through working with my fellow classmates.”

Heflin recently became involved in FCS education at the state level, now serving as chair of public policy for the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences-Indiana Affiliate (INAFCS).

Her short list of program goals for Westfield include expansion of the culinary arts and nutrition program, which has a new commercial kitchen classroom, the introduction of FCS dual credit courses, and addition of a food science course to the curriculum. She also plans to create a student-run garden where students can learn about agriculture and use the foods they grow in their recipes in the cooking lab.

“The master of arts in career and technical education program truly helped me achieve so many of the goals I set for the program,” says Heflin.

Learn more about our Master’s in Career and Technical education.

CTE Grad Gives Voice to Female STEM Students

When Highland Park High School (HPHS) teacher Erica Tuke received the 2016 New Teacher of the Year Award from the Technology Education Association of Illinois, she was applauded for her vision for narrowing the gender gap and encouraging minority involvement in engineering classes. She was also saluted for co-sponsoring STEM-W, a group promoting increased STEM opportunities for young women at HPHS. Her use of technology gives her high schoolers access to lessons and tutorials from home 24/7.

Tuke earned her bachelor’s in studio art and art education from the University of Iowa. Five years into her teaching career, she enrolled in Ball State’s fully online master of arts in career and technical education.

Q: You said that you wanted to pursue graduate work so you could learn the latest teaching practices related to CTE. What led you to Ball State’s program?

I’m surrounded by many excellent universities and CTE programs in Illinois, but many of them don’t offer graduate or online programs. During my research, I found that Ball State had an incredibly reputable online bachelor’s degree program, so I assumed that their graduate programs were equally as reputable. It would have been difficult for me to commute back and forth from Chicago, so it made Ball State a no-brainer decision.

Q: What was the most immediate impact of the degree?

Many of the assignments completed during the program could be tailored to what we were doing in the classroom. For example, one assignment asked us to create a lesson plan on a CTE topic of our choosing. We were able to implement these lessons as soon as the following week after getting feedback from our professor. Being able to bring these plans to life allowed me to experience success and failure while getting feedback from my professor and my online peers.

Q: How did the program make you a better teacher?

My online peers were giving incredibly thoughtful responses to tough questions, which is something I wanted my high school students to also emulate. By offering more avenues for student voice, my classroom community has been stronger, and everybody’s voices are able to be heard.

I think CTE education is moving toward enhancing 21st century learning skills—pushing problem- and project-based learning. My experience at Ball State only reinforced this philosophy.

Learn more about our Master’s in Career and Technical education.

Former construction project manager re-tools to teach

In the late 2000s, the Great Recession redirected Jim Brunson’s career trajectory.

After 30-plus years of general construction experience, including 20-plus years as a construction project manager, Brunson lost two consecutive positions due to workforce reductions.

“The recession took a bitter toll on older workers.”

Q: You were forced to make a career change and began working for Indiana’s community college system, Ivy Tech. That position led to your enrollment in Ball State’s master’s in career and technology education, which is offered 100 percent online.

I knew the applied side of building construction management due to nearly 35 years of work experience. I felt I needed to know more about how to be a post-secondary educator for the sake of my students and my own confidence.

Q: What are your responsibilities as program chair of the building construction management program?

I teach three to four courses per semester, either face to face or online. I advise and counsel students in the building construction management program, hire and supervise program faculty, develop courses, and perform purchasing and budgeting functions for the program.

Q: So what did Ball State’s master of arts in career and technology education do for your career?

I gained insights into the process of post-secondary education for non-traditional students that I needed. It is one thing to know the business side of building construction management, but relating that knowledge to students is another.

I was an older student. I took one course per semester and just kept pecking away at it. I was 59 years-old when I began the program and celebrated my 63rd birthday within a week or so of graduating.

I gained a great deal from my experience with classmates. My classmates were from all over the country. Some were youngsters with little life experience. The points of view and personal philosophies they shared expanded my understanding of how to relate to my non-traditional students.

Q: Had you taken online classes before?

Ironically, I had taught and developed online courses, but I had never been a student in an online class. Online education is great for mature, motivated students who are capable of working independently. Asynchronous [no specific log-in time] courses provide opportunities for thoughtful interaction with classmates and teachers.

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