Ashleigh Haug wanted to make her father, Michael Shimko, proud and broaden her horizons as a teacher by continuing her own education.
Missions accomplished. Haug completed the online Master of Science in Instructional Design & Technology program at St. Thomas University with a 4.0 GPA in February 2020.
"I had been thinking about going back to school for a few years," she said. "My dad has two bachelor's degrees, so he kind of expected me to go further and get my master's degree. I thought it was a pretty good opportunity."
Haug is in her third year as a fourth-grade math and science teacher at Henry F. Kite Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, where she was born and raised. She has spent her entire professional career at Duval County Public Schools.
"I love the technology part of teaching, and that was the first time I had heard of a master's program that involved education and technology — everything else was educational leadership," she said. "It was a good fit for me. The main reason I went back was because I was interested in that specific program."
The flexibility of the online format helped Haug earn a degree without missing a beat in her own classroom. She completed the program in 10 months after enrolling in April 2019.
"I worked full time when I was doing my bachelor's degree, so it was the same situation," she said. "My husband, Stewart, has pretty much taken over our household, which is awesome. He's been great.
"Although it was a struggle at some points, it was worth it. You should definitely make sure you have the time you need to put into the program so that you're not overwhelmed."
Change of Plans
After graduating from high school, Haug enrolled at Florida State College at Jacksonville and studied marketing. Once she switched gears to education, she knew she had found her true calling.
"I realized I was failing all of my classes because I hated marketing," she said. "I have three little brothers who inspired me to be a teacher. They were pretty young when my mom didn't live with us anymore. I had to be like their mom and teach them a lot of things. That experience led me to teach."
Haug graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary education and teaching from the University of North Florida in 2016. Since she is a relatively new teacher, she found the insight she gained in the master's degree program particularly valuable.
"I recently finished my research-based practicum, which was a group project," she said "It was beneficial. It taught me more about how research is done pretty much all of the time in my own classroom and looking at it from a different perspective — especially in action research."
Other students enrolled in the online M.S. in Instructional Design & Technology program also provided Haug with a broader view.
"About 60% of the students were educators," she said. "The person I did my practicum with is a substitute teacher right now, but she is also coming from the corporate world. It was the best of both perspectives.
"I think a lot of companies are sending their employees to do the program so they can become better trainers to see both perspectives."
Of all the courses in the M.S. in Instructional Design & Technology curriculum, Haug particularly enjoyed EDT 620: Technology Integration. Among the faculty, instructional design support coordinator and associate professor Dr. Timothy Michael Stafford stood out for his engagement with online students.
"Dr. Stafford was way cool," she said. "He was my teacher for three classes. He gave everyone his cell phone number so we could reach out.
"He cared about us and wanted to make sure we were getting everything we needed to understand the material. He was looking out for our future and our well-being beyond the program. I really liked that."
In addition to all that Haug learned from the material, she also got a look at how different educators approach their jobs because of where they teach.
"A lot of people from all over the world enroll in the online program," she said. "It's interesting to learn about their perspectives and cultures. Be open to other people's perspectives and learn from them.
"There are people who are fluent Spanish speakers because St. Thomas is based in Miami. It's interesting to hear the cultural differences when you're teaching in Miami versus teaching in Jacksonville, which is not even that far away."
With the technology emphasis so crucial for today's educators, the master's degree has the potential to open up additional career opportunities for Haug.
"I would like to work for the school district, develop curriculum and help teachers implement that curriculum using technology," she said. "I want to stay in the classroom for another few years and get some more experience under my belt. I definitely got good value out of the program."
Learn more about the St. Thomas University online M.S. in Instructional Design & Technology program.
- Affordable Master's Degree in Instructional Design
- Earn a Master's Degree in Instructional Design in Under a Year
- Instructional Design: A Growing Field
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