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

Master’s, Licensure, Certificate Courses Stoke Leonhardt’s Love for Learning

Barely into his master’s in educational psychology, high school teacher Larry Leonhardt sensed the impact his course work was having on his classroom.

“Educational psychology is all about the science of how we learn,” says Leonhardt, who teaches psychology and history at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. “Understanding how learning works allowed me to sift through inefficient study techniques and have my students try more evidence-based practices.”

Larry’s bachelor’s work was in world history but when Lawrence North needed someone to teach the overflow of psychology students, he happily volunteered. Today, he teaches all of his school’s psych classes plus advanced placement (AP) history.

Mentor and Advisor to IB Students

He also mentors the school’s international baccalaureate (IB) students who are required to write extended essays their senior year to earn an IB diploma, granted to graduates of a rigorous, college prep curriculum.

Larry says the online delivery of the Ball State master’s in educational psychology gave him practical experience with online platforms to enhance his classroom instruction since Canvas is the platform used by his students.

He also liked the fact that the delivery format “followed pedagogical and cognitive principles consistently.”

Teacher and Coach of Teens

“I have a particular interest in adolescent developmental psychology because I spend a lot of time around teens,” says Larry, who has taught high school for more than 30 years. He’s also coached high school athletes on multiple volleyball teams during the same span of years.

After finishing his master’s in 2018, he began pursuing licensure in gifted and talented education, also through Ball State. Courses such as Socioemotional Needs of Gifted Students and Models and Strategies for Gifted Education also had a positive impact on AP and IB students who typically carry more demanding workloads and can, in his words, become “basket cases” when juggling academic obligations.

To support his psychology teaching in general, Larry is doing online course work for a graduate certificate in Neuropsychology.

Program Has Transformed His Teaching

“I love learning,” says Larry. “I just have a passion for it, and these courses stoke that as well as giving me ideas of how to enhance my own teaching and students’ learning. Sadly, I’m almost out of courses to take.”

Larry credits Ball State’s online programs with providing educators an opportunity to transform their teaching.

“I have pursued all my graduate credit in the last three years online, and really, that was the only practical way for me to do it,” says Larry. “I’d say I’ve changed my teaching more in the past three years than in the previous 30.