Students in M.A.Ed. and Ed.D. Programs Reflect on Academic Paths, Future Goals
Educators looking for the next step in their careers often return to school themselves. At Gratz, students can earn master’s or doctorate degrees in education through programs that are completely online, offering them the flexibility they need to succeed as both students and teachers.
Here, we spotlight three of these students.
An admissions counselor changed the course of Stephanie Walker’s life.
Walker immigrated from Ecuador at age 16 and almost immediately faced the challenge that would define her career: surviving as an international student. She applied to college and, while juggling the stresses of an unfamiliar culture, tried to navigate the higher education system.
“I was pretty much treated like most immigrants are, which is not the best,” Walker said. “My high school guidance counselor told me I didn’t need to take the SAT, that it would be too difficult, that students like me don’t usually complete four years of college. I was given the run-around.”
An admissions counselor at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina took the opposite approach, Walker said. The counselor spoke with Walker and her mother in Spanish, walked them through the process, and even found additional funding options.
“It sounds cliché, but she changed my life,” Walker said. “She made the difference between me not going to college at all and being able to find a career that I love. None of this was in the cards for me, but my admissions counselor took the time to make it happen.”
Walker earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Belmont Abbey College and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Alvernia University in Reading, Pa. Throughout her undergraduate and graduate careers, Walker has consistently worked in college admissions—starting as a student worker and campus tour guide.
Now vice president of enrollment at Manor College in Jenkintown, Pa., Walker also is pursuing a doctorate in Gratz’s educational leadership program. She aspires to one day be president of a college.
“A lot of people who work in higher education fall into admissions,” she said. “For me, it was clear from the get-go that, had it not been for an admissions counselor who cared, I would not be sitting in the seat I am today. I made a conscious decision that this is what I want to do. I tailored my path to gain the skills I needed for this job.”
Walker, who has just completed her first semester as an Ed.D. student, said her career focus remains on growing enrollment at institutions of higher learning. She plans to graduate from Gratz in 2022.
“All of what I’m learning is specifically related to my day-to-day work,” she said. “It puts an academic framework on what I do every day. It’s personally enriching, is relevant to my day job, and helps me prepare for the future.”
Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath wants to enhance the modes of education that occur outside of traditional school settings.
A second-year student in Gratz’s Ed.D. program, Vinokor-Meinrath knew from a very young age that she wanted to work in the Jewish community. As she progressed through school, she found she was drawn to a career in education—and Jewish education in particular.
Originally from New York, Vinokor-Meinrath earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and Jewish studies from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Now living in Rockville, Md., Vinokor-Meinrath works as senior program officer for Jewish Life and Learning at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
“I work in the field of experiential or informal learning,” she said. “I’m not in a school, not in a traditional educational environment, but my life is all about education.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, a non-profit community organization, offers Vinokor-Meinrath the opportunity to develop curriculum and host professional development courses for other educators. She also studies ways to incorporate Jewish learning into everyday life.
“Basically, I spend my time figuring out how to infuse meaningful Jewish content into people’s non-classroom lives,” she said. “That includes board meetings, giving circles, conversations between parents and kids in the car. It’s about taking these touchpoints in people’s lives and turning them into teaching moments.”
Vinokor-Meinrath, who also teaches courses in cooking, activism and social justice in the Gratz NEXT program for Jewish supplemental school teachers, said she enrolled in the Ed.D. program because it was a natural extension of her day job. She hopes to do qualitative research for her final project by interviewing Jewish high school students who completed their bar or bat mitzvah but who are not formally engaged in the Jewish community.
“I want to find out how they view their Jewishness and how they see Jewishness enriching their lives,” Vinokor-Meinrath said. “I ultimately want to contribute more to the overall field of Jewish education from both a hands-on place of being an educator while also exploring and contributing to a larger context of research and best-practice development.”
Brendan Horan was still a student when he decided he wanted to become a teacher.
Horan was in seventh grade when he first thought about his future career. He started by dismissing all the jobs he knew he didn’t want.
“I knew I didn’t want the typical desk job, working 9-5,” he said. “I knew I had a knack for working with people and the ability to communicate.”
The decision to pursue a career in education, however, was more instinctual than anything else, Horan said. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education with a concentration in math from West Chester University, in West Chester, Pa., and is certified to teach special education in grades four through eight.
Now a seventh-grade math teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, Horan was looking for a convenient and affordable way to earn a graduate degree when he stumbled upon Gratz’s online Master of Arts in Education program.
“When I was looking at college, it seemed the big issue was price,” he said. “I’m a teacher so I don’t have money to spare. Gratz was the economical choice, but it also allowed me to do the program online. As a teacher, it’s great to have the flexibility to work on my degree at my pace.”
Horan, who juggles his responsibilities as a teacher with the demands of being a student, said his coursework directly impacts his teaching. His Philadelphia classroom is incredibly diverse, he said, and he uses his studies to augment his lesson plans.
For example, one of his class rosters includes eight students who don’t speak any English, Horan said. In the past, these youths might simply be designated as special education students and given Individualized Education Plans.
Horan, however, wants to blur the lines between special education and regular education and err in favor of inclusion. He uses Google Translate to communicate with his students.
“My students speak Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Uzbek and Spanish,” he said. “They don’t understand anything I say in English, but with a little bit of technology we can communicate.”
Horan, who plans to graduate in August, wants to write his master’s thesis about this kind of inclusion in the classroom. He’s also already thinking ahead to a doctorate degree in education.
“Individualized plans shouldn’t be just for students with special needs,” he said. “Inclusion is becoming the norm for all kinds of students. Teachers need to pay attention to every student and do some form of an individualized plan that works for each one.”
— JANUARY 2019