Elk-Clarion County residents ready to serve area students, thanks to online education programs at Clarion University
By Andy Lingwall
Take one look at Jessica Krug's average work week, and you'll ask yourself, "How in the world does she fit it all in?"
Ask Jessica, and the answer is simple. It's a mix of strong personal energy, a passion for education and a boost from online coursework at Clarion University.
Enrolling in Clarion's M.Ed. program in Curriculum and Instruction in 2006, the 25-year-old St. Mary's resident jumped into the online Graduate Secondary Teacher Certification (GSTC) Program shortly afterward. She took nine to 15 credits each semester without breaking stride. That was in between substitute teaching four days a week, raising her two daughters, Veronica, 10 and Janelle, 5, plus enjoying life with her husband Nick. Jessica graduated from the GSTC Program with Biology Certification in 2008, and plans to complete her master's degree this spring with an emphasis in biology.
"I wanted to do the online program because I knew it would allow me to continue my life and spend time with my kids," says Jessica, a 2001 graduate of St. Mary's Area High School. "I needed to be able to keep working and take the classes from home. I looked at other programs, but they all required students to travel to campus twice a month or so, whereas with Clarion the only travel required was during my 12 weeks of student teaching at DuBois Area High School. Because Clarion's program is strictly online, I was able to work at my own pace without stressing out too badly."
Back on the Clarion campus, 29-year-old Khalid Quesri was busy stretching his own time and energy limits. Since moving there from Mechanicsburg in 2001, he earned one bachelor's degree in Sports Medicine from California University, then from Clarion, a second bachelor's degree in Liberal Studies and an associate degree in Allied Health - all by Spring of 2006. Without stopping, he broke into the online M.Ed. program, combined that coursework with the GSTC program, and graduated last December.
"I always knew that I wanted to get a master's degree," Khalid says. "I have always been a huge fan of teaching, so I talked to Clarion's athletic trainer Jim Thornton. He convinced me to stay and become his graduate assistant. Dr. (Brian) Maguire encouraged me to start taking the education classes. It all worked out really well for me."
Last spring, Khalid completed his student teaching block at Clarion Area High School. Since the university's program runs on an accelerated schedule, he was able to finish it within 12 weeks. "To me, it was interesting that most of the students in this program were adults returning to school to become teachers," Khalid says. "I really enjoyed the fact that the online program is set up to accommodate people like me who have jobs already. I was able to continue working all the way through school."
Clarion University's Graduate Secondary Teacher Certification Program is designed for people who have earned a bachelor's degree in a specific discipline. The 33-credit online program consists of 10 core courses plus a semester as a teacher intern. It is available in several content areas including:
· Modern Languages (French and Spanish)
· Social Studies
· Earth and Space Science
· General Science
In addition to convenience and flexibility, Clarion University's online programs in education offer prospective students two other important advantages: credibility and accreditation. The university's Department of Education enjoys a national reputation for excellence. It is accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), one of only 18 programs statewide to hold this distinction.
According to Dr. Patty Kolencik, GSTC program co-director and faculty member, the NCATE accreditation and the faculty's reputation for excellence place the university head and shoulders above its competitors. "I am so excited that we are able to offer this program to students in Western Pennsylvania and beyond," she says. "It enables them to pursue their dreams of becoming highly qualified, certified teachers."
Clarion University traces its teacher education roots back to 1867, when it was founded as a state teacher's college. Today, Clarion's College of Education and Human Services is home to one of the university's largest academic programs, serving over 2,500 majors each year.
Online learning at Clarion
Having completed much of her M.Ed. coursework both in and out of a classroom setting, Jessica says she was a bit apprehensive at first about the prospect of completely online coursework. However, her reservations faded quickly once she saw how interactive the courses were, and how easy it was to fit in with her life as a mom, a wife and a wage earner.
"Usually, I would study during teacher prep time while substitute teaching and in the evenings," Jessica says. "I would get dinner ready, and while the girls did their homework, I would finish mine. Then, I would spend some more evening time with the girls and tuck them into bed. After that, I could get even more work done. If I still needed some more time alone, I would tell my husband Nick that he needed to step in with the girls, and he was always very good about it."
By design, most of Clarion's online coursework is "asynchronous," meaning that students can complete assignments and discussion board postings at their own convenience, rather than being required to participate at specific times.
Khalid noted that he especially enjoyed this feature of online learning. "It didn't matter whether it was 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. - I could always get online and do my work," he says. "There were no set class times, so it was very beneficial to people like me who were working or doing other things."
Khalid even managed to meet up with online classmates as far away as Korea and Europe, which expanded his cultural horizons. "I could sit at my computer here in Clarion and interact with people from all over the world. It opened up so many new perspectives for me. Especially at a small university like Clarion, that input from elsewhere added so much value to my experience."
Whether students are learning in the classroom or online, Clarion faculty are always eager to teach and to help students, according to Dr. Kolencik. "We are basically available 24/7 through e-mail, and we always try to get back to students as soon as possible" she says. "Or, students can always call the Education office and set up an appointment to meet with me on campus. I am always happy to meet with my online students, and I do it frequently."
Regardless of any situation he might encounter, Khalid says that his instructors were always willing to work out solutions with him. "Much of my success in this program is due to all the support I received from the faculty," he says. "Whenever we ran into a technology hurdle or problem online, they always worked it out with me. All in all, the whole thing went very smoothly."
Tips for online success
So, what kinds of skills does it take to succeed in an online degree program? Which personal attributes help a student to get through their coursework and make it to graduation? Jessica offers a few suggestions. "First, you must be an independent learner. It takes a lot of work and a high degree of self-reliance," she says. "You can't depend on the professor to get you on the computer each night; you have to do that yourself. You also have to be the type of person who won't procrastinate on projects until the end of the semester. If you make that mistake, your grades will show it."
Jessica and Khalid agreed that students must be able to carefully manage their time. "For me, a lot of it has been about managing time down to the smallest unit," Jessica says. "Each week, I would make up checklists and make sure that I stayed on top of them. If I got behind, I would make up for it on the weekend."
Khalid added that successful online students also communicate regularly with their professors. "In the online environment, it is easy to lose track of this. It is so important to make sure that you are constantly committed to the discussion boards and to communicating with your professors," he says. "Once I figured this out, everything became much easier."
Someday soon, Khalid hopes to become a secondary history teacher. While searching for his first teaching position, Khalid works as a mobile therapist/behavior specialist with Shamrock Solutions, a Clarion-based organization. Here, he sets up treatment plans and provides behavior therapy for children ages 3 to 18 at school and in their homes. "Many of these kids have things like autism and ADHD," Khalid says. "Working with these kids is key for me now, because I believe I will see many of them later as students."
As part of the M.Ed. Elk County cohort, Jessica meets with her classmates five times over the course of each class during the degree program in St. Marys. She hopes that her substitute teaching work in all areas of K-12 at the St. Mary's Area School District will boost her prospects for a permanent teaching position in the region. "Everything I have learned through my studies at Clarion - from classroom management and lesson plans to substituting skills - I am using now and will continue to use when I have my own classroom." she says.
Trends indicate strong demand for teachers
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, secondary school teaching is one of the top 10 occupations for the most job openings predicted through 2016, with a 6 to 10 percent growth rate. In 2007, secondary teachers in Pennsylvania earned an average of $51,840. Clarion's GSTC program enhances graduates' skills and certifies them to work in this fast-growing career field.
Other Online Programs at Clarion
In addition to programs in education, Clarion University offers online programs in fields including business administration, library science, nursing, radiologic technology, rehabilitative sciences, mass media and more. Here, students can earn a two-year associate degree, a four-year bachelor's degree or an advanced certificate online while working full-time, without having to come to the Clarion campus. Online study can be an ideal choice for people who are unable to travel to campus due to distance, job commitments or family responsibilities. Financial aid is available. Clarion University is approved for the G.I. Bill, and offers in-state tuition to active-duty military personnel.
"Clarion University delivers online educational programs that are convenient and flexible, and which are held to the same quality standards as traditional on campus instruction," said Dr. Art Acton, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs. "These programs all meet or exceed the rigorous requirements for regional and national accreditation."
Clarion professors draw upon a broad mix of academic expertise and field experience in their teaching and research. Most faculty members hold doctorates and have worked extensively in their fields.
For more information
Anyone interested in finding out more about online degree or certificate programs at Clarion University can call 1-866-272-5612, option 2, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also visit the university's website at www.clarion.edu/distance/.