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Arkansas State University

Teacher Duo Inspire One Another, Earn MSE Degrees

A-State MSE graduates Lindsey Pierce and Cindy Wilson

When Cindy Wilson took student teacher Lindsey Pierce under her wing in 2009, little did she know that Pierce would one day convince her to pursue a master’s degree. In 2015, Wilson graduated with an MSE in Educational Theory and Practice that she earned online from A-State.

Piece said, “I was very bossy, and I bugged her [Wilson], and I made her start the online program.”

“You bossed a little, but you encouraged me. I appreciate that because I never would’ve done it without that,” Wilson responded.

Both Pierce and Wilson teach elementary school in Cabot, Arkansas. Pierce is a fourth grade literacy teacher at Southside Elementary, and Wilson is a second grade teacher at Northside Elementary. Pierce was already enrolled in the A-State online MSE in Gifted, Talented, and Creative program when she urged Wilson to go for a master’s degree.

The pair became acquainted in 2009 when Pierce was a student teacher and Wilson was her mentor. They met and bonded, and Pierce came back two years later and taught third grade next to Wilson for several years.

“Without the encouragement of this young lady, I never would have started [my master’s],” Wilson said.

“I never thought about it because I’m an older teacher that was kind of set in her ways. I just never really thought about me going on to receive my master’s,” she added.

Goal in Focus

Pierce had always dreamed of earning a master’s degree. She kept postponing pursuit of it because she started working right out of college. Emails from her school district (Cabot) on A-State’s online programs served as reminders of her dream.

“I had ignored it [the email] a few times, but I decided to investigate. I had a friend who was looking into it as well. We called and we asked what all it would involve, and it sounded like a great program. That’s how I got started,” Pierce said.

Pierce qualified for a state-funded grant that made the program more affordable.

“I was really surprised that most of the expense of my program would be funded through a grant. That was very helpful to me as a single parent because I don’t have a lot of extra income just for things that I want to do extra for myself,” she said.

Thanks to the online format, she could earn the degree with little disruption to her work and personal life.

“I wouldn’t have to leave my son at night and go to class. I could actually fit it into my schedule, do it on my breaks and my lunches and after school.”

Starting Early

“When I was very young, I wanted to go beyond and pursue a higher level degree. … It [the master’s degree] was a great feeling of accomplishment that I was able to do that,” Pierce said.

Another of Pierce’s motivations for pursuing an advanced degree was her desire to be a role model.

“Mainly I went back to school, though, because of my son. I wanted him to see that we reach for our dreams, and we reach for our goals, and we do things for ourselves.

“That degree is something that he can look at some day and say, ‘Well, Mom did this for us. Mom did this to show me that I can reach what my dreams are as well,’” Pierce said.

In the Classroom and Beyond

Pierce says the degree helps her professionally because her students benefit from it on a daily basis.

“I use my degree in my classroom, because my Gifted and Talented degree allows me some extra training that helps me to push my children with higher-order thinking skills and asks more of them academically than I was able to ask of them before. It promotes deeper thinking, and those practices are good for all children.

“I am more trained and more up to date with research and best practices with my students,” she said.

Apart from helping Pierce become more effective in the classroom, the degree expanded her career options outside of it.

“Eventually, someday, if I choose to leave the classroom environment,” said Pierce. “I can pursue a position as a gifted and talented specialist at a school.”

Pierce also recognizes the higher earning potential of an advanced degree.

“My degree does come with an added incentive as far as my paycheck is concerned — so, yes, it will also extend my salary schedule several levels,” she said.

Acclimating to the Online Format

Studying online was new for Pierce as her previous programs were all face to face. She overcame her initial fear of the format by learning to manage her time better.

“After the first week, I decided that I needed a very set schedule for studying. I started to study at planned times, and I would study during my breaks and not during the children’s recess. … I would allow myself certain days of the week to stay after school and to work on my projects,” she said.

Pierce plotted assignments and due dates on a calendar and tried to stay a week or two ahead.

“Sometimes, if I had a big project, I’d come home and cook dinner and play with my son and put him to bed and go back to work,” Pierce said. “Working online was wonderful because it fit into my life.”

Academic Backing

“My professors were very knowledgeable in their fields. You could tell that they’d done their research and they had a lot of background knowledge about the topics,” Pierce said.

“Their assignments were very beneficial — there was no extra work or busy work needed. They got straight to the point of the course and they taught me exactly what I needed to do to go forward into the next course,” she added.

The online format didn’t mean Pierce was on her own. She found her professors to be friendly and prompt to respond.

“I called a few of them sometimes to ask questions, and they always made themselves very available to me, which was very nice since we weren’t actually meeting face to face,” she said. “I really was pleased with A-State’s professors.”

The structure of the program enabled Pierce to immediately use what she learned in her job.

“The program was well laid out so that it was very sequential, and it all made sense. It was very applicable to what I was seeing in my classroom, so I could pick it up right then and put it to use the next day.”

Little Aides

In the classroom, Pierce’s students helped her apply what she learned in the program.

“I’d sit down at the table, and I’d say, ‘Ok, guys. You’re helping with my schoolwork now. Are you ready for this?’ They thought it was so much fun because a lot of times, the projects were very engaging and very creative,” she said.

“They thought it was great to not only help me pursue my degree, but also to do something a little fun. They would ask me almost every week, ‘Is this graduation week? Is this graduation week?’ because they felt like they were doing it with me,” she added.

Mutual Support

Watching Pierce do the work for her master’s degree inspired Wilson to consider earning one. Though Wilson was keen, she thought of herself as too old to do it. Pierce encouraged her with, “If I can do it, you can do it!”

With Pierce on the Gifted, Talented, and Creative track and Wilson on the Educational Theory and Practice track, the two had little MSE coursework in common. They still supported one other throughout.

“We helped each other and kept each other going. I almost quit one day, and she wouldn’t let me,” Pierce said.

“She was so young and so smart, but she was working hard, taking care of her son and working a full-time job, but I knew she could do it,” Wilson responded. “Then I had some personal issues going on that really I could’ve walked away [from the master’s program] and she wouldn’t let me.”

Wilson chose to take one class at a time to accommodate her full-time job, home and family.

“It just felt good every time to check off that class and register for the new class,” Wilson said. “My confidence definitely built every time I would take a new class and learn a new skill or a trait that I could use and build on. It just felt good every time, and I would see those grades come up, and it made me feel very successful.”

You Can Do This

In addition to the encouragement she received from Wilson, Pierce had support from her family.

“They encouraged me when I was discouraged,” Pierce said. “I almost stopped taking classes at one point because I felt overwhelmed, but that’s when they stepped in and said, ‘We’ll help you in this area of your life. You can do this. You’re not a quitter — you need to keep at it.’ They were there every step of the way.”

Pierce’s son contributed to her achievement simply by being there as she did the work.

“I feel like he earned his master’s degree right along with me, because many times he would be eating a snack or watching a movie or playing with his toy, sometimes even in my lap as I was typing on a paper.

“Sometimes he was pressing the keys with me, so I feel like one of the best parts of graduation day was when I got to hold him after I walked the stage, because it felt like we did it together,” she said.

Lifelong Learners

Although Pierce and Wilson started the MSE program a semester apart and graduated at different times, they think of it as something they did together.

Pierce said, “It was my dream job to come back and teach right next to my mentor teacher — no one gets to do that. We got to be on the same team and work together, and that was so wonderful every day.

“Then to go through this experience [the master’s program] together too was even more bonding because it’s, ‘Yes, we can do this! We can stick it out. We can make it.’”

Wilson says she has been able to apply much of what she learned in the program to her class. She values the experience for its intangible benefits, as well.

“I have been more positive, felt more successful, and have been able to just apply that in my classroom and to my students — to never quit learning.”

In reflecting on their journey toward a master’s degree and how they inspired one another, Wilson and Pierce echoed the same thought: Share the wealth.

Learn more about A-State’s online Master of Science in Education programs.

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