Kathy Schoenfelder and St. Thomas University were a match made in New Jersey.
After immigrating to the United States from Cuba when she was 12 years old, she parlayed her love of mathematics and education into a career as a middle school math teacher in the Garden State.
"I am the first one in my family to attend college, so it was definitely a big deal," Schoenfelder said. "The tuition and bad weather here in New Jersey made me feel that pursuing my master's was unattainable. Attending classes on campus after a long day of teaching felt like too much of a sacrifice and time away from my family."
Then, along came the Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology online program at St. Thomas University, where her husband, Kenneth, earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
"One of my co-workers also shared information with me about doing an online degree program," Schoenfelder said. "Being able to do it online and having somebody share with me what a wonderful experience they had earning an online degree got me excited about the opportunity."
Schoenfelder enrolled in January 2019 and completed the program in less than one year while working full time at McManus Middle School in Linden.
"I love the availability and flexibility of online learning," she said. "The workload was appropriate as well as challenging. I was challenged to make presentations using diverse multimedia platforms, become an active researcher, and advocate for my students' academic needs."
"The professors were also excellent. Dr. [Timothy Michael] Stafford was a great mentor throughout the process. He made himself available for any questions I had regarding anything. What a wonderful experience."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in education and mathematics from Kean University, Schoenfelder became a teacher and knew right away that she had chosen the right career path. She has taught at McManus Middle School for 11 years.
"I really enjoy what I am doing now," she said. "The Instructional Design and Technology program has provided me with the innovative skills needed to provide my students with collaborative and engaging learning experiences to prepare them for 21st century learning."
Although Schoenfelder did not have any experience taking online courses before enrolling in the M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology program, she made a seamless transition and found out what she had been missing.
"The excitement of submitting things and the creativity that we have to have in each of the courses was rewarding," she said. "Through Canvas, there were so many different avenues for submitting an assignment. We could record ourselves and make presentations. Most assignments were higher-level, project-based, and collaborative."
Especially because of how quickly Schoenfelder earned a master's degree in the accelerated program, she was thrilled with her experience at St. Thomas University.
"I definitely got good value out of it," she said. "I have recommended the program, and I will continue to recommend it to my colleagues, my friends or anybody. It was reasonably-priced and fantastic."
When Schoenfelder enrolled in the online master's degree program, she and her friends and family wondered if it would be manageable.
"They were excited and definitely a little scared in terms of what online entails and how many hours —especially my husband. He said, 'How many hours will you be taking out of your time?'" she said. "I am 41 years old. I didn't grow up with the internet. It was definitely a new experience."
But Schoenfelder thrived in the program while working toward the master's degree she had wanted for so long.
"You could put less hours into the program, but it will be extremely beneficial to put everything you have into it," she said. "Dr. Stafford mentioned putting enough time into it to get a better product in the end.
"I found that taking educational risks allowed me to experience success," she said. "This is something that I would like to implement in my classroom."
Schoenfelder completed the master's degree program in October 2019 and is eligible to participate in the May 2020 commencement ceremony in Miami. Now, she and her husband are now both St. Thomas University graduates — one on campus, one online.
Learn more about the St. Thomas University online M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology program.
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