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

Cameron Gonzales posing with a group of people wearing academic regalia

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

Exceptional Needs License Gives Teacher a Position with Impact

Bethany Cmar
Master’s in Special Education
Director of Exceptional Needs License

As a special education teacher in an elementary school classroom, Bethany Cmar encountered a student struggling to understand the nature of elapsed time. This youngster, for example, thought that in a competition, the higher time was the winning time.

It was only when she learned her student was a race fan that she could explain how, to win a race, drivers needed to record lower times.

“This confirmed my belief that knowing your students is imperative in teaching your students,” she says.

She Wanted a Bigger Classroom

The realization also pushed her toward a broader role in the field of education. “As a special education administrator,” says Cmar, “I knew my impact would reach many more students and their families.”

Because special education administration had been her goal as an undergraduate, Cmar began work on Ball State’s master’s in special education, offered fully online, while teaching elementary school which led her to the director of exceptional needs license, also provided fully online.

“The only apprehension I had was learning the expectations of new instructors and the layout of online content,” she says. “I didn’t really have difficulties with the technology.”

Touching those with Exceptional Needs

Today Cmar is assistant director of special services at Anderson Community Schools (ACS) in Anderson, Indiana, where her decisions can touch nearly 1,600 students, since 22 percent of the 7,000 students in the district receive special education services.

Her office serves students with speech impairments, cognitive disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, emotional disabilities, and those on the autism spectrum.

In 2017 she became assistant director of special services for ACS, having become a math and language arts special education teacher for an ACS middle school in 2013 and special education administrative designee in 2014.

“Ball State Prepared Me to Lead”

“Whether looking at curriculum, programming, or staffing, I feel Ball State University prepared me to be an educational leader,” says Cmar.

Although her position is mostly administrative—overseeing compliance, seeking funding from the Department of Education, providing training for staff, hiring educators, and assisting her director and teachers daily—soft skills are also necessary.

“Working with teachers, families, and other community members is the best part of my job,” says Cmar. “Getting to know students and their families requires being out in the community and letting students see you as a person, not just a school employee.”

Support Systems for Adult Students

She believes relationships with students and families helps educators “create a support system to help students achieve great goals.”

Cmar remembers having her own support system when she began work on her bachelor’s degree as a first-generation adult student, who was 30 years old, married, and the mother of two.

“Ball State professors always made me feel valued as a student, educator, and future educational leader,” she says. “There was never a time when I thought about quitting my journey.”

Children Motivate Michelle Thornburgh to Bachelor’s Degree

As the first college graduate in her family, Michelle Thornburgh was determined she wouldn’t be the last. While teaching toddlers in an Early Head Start classroom, she resolved to teach her own young children at home that a college degree is worth the time and effort. Now that her bachelor’s degree is in hand, she’s considering graduate school and eventually managing an early childhood education program.

Q: What motivated you to pursue your bachelor’s degree?

A: The motivation that helped me obtain my bachelor’s degree was my three children. I am a mother to three, ages 1, 3, and 5. When I began my career at Ball State I was expecting, and already had a 1- year-old and a 3-year-old. Balancing the children, pregnancy, and birth was sometimes a challenge. Along with my children at home, I also am a teacher in an infant and toddler classroom. Still, I am the first college graduate from my family and wanted to show my children that if you work hard at something, you can do it.

Q: How has your education influenced your professional life?

A: I have used my education often on the job. Working daily with children in a classroom setting provided me the opportunity to incorporate new ideas, teaching strategies, and skills learned through my courses and see them unfold in the classroom.

Q: How did instructors and advisors lend their support?

A: While pursuing my degree online, I had instructors that were very understanding. They took time to invest in me and answer questions through both email and phone conversations. Whenever I needed assistance, it was comforting to know that the instructors were there to assist in any way possible. My experience in the program has been nothing but positive. There is such a strong support from advisors and instructors.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a student the last two years at Ball State University. I have gained so much knowledge in such little time. My experience here is a testimony to encourage those who are beginning their educational journey. By working hard, being disciplined in my courses, and balancing a very busy home life, I was able to obtain my degree on time and with a grade point average that gave me the opportunity to attend the Teachers College dean’s list recognition ceremony.

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