“I want to embolden all students, including students with disabilities”: Q&A with Tina Wilson, MEd ’10 and EdD Student
Sometimes we realize what we’re meant to do later in life, and engaging in purpose-driven work often motivates us to achieve more than we thought possible. Tina Wilson, a special education teacher from South Carolina, became an educator after getting married and having children, and that was just her beginning. She continued to advance her practice, earning a Master of Education in Educational Leadership, and she’s currently finishing her Doctorate of Education in Higher Education from Concordia University-Portland. I connected with Wilson to learn more about her educational journey, her passion for helping students, and her research in higher education.
What inspired you to work in education?
I was inspired to work in education after being assigned to an assistive technology computer room for a work-study during my freshman and sophomore years at Spartanburg Community College. I had a variety of support service duties for students with disabilities and realized I enjoyed helping them reach their academic goals. I decided to change my career plan from nursing to education.
After transferring to Converse College, I continued to work in academic supports for disabled students. I chose comprehensive special education for my major because I wanted to have the training to help as many students as possible achieve their academic goals. When I graduated from Converse I was certified in learning disabilities, mental disabilities, and emotional and behavioral disabilities. I was also certified in elementary education. After graduating, I became certified in GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) and secondary social studies.
What made you choose Concordia University-Portland for your MEd and EdD?
I chose Concordia University-Portland after responding to an open invitation to explore Concordia’s first online MEd program leading to a degree in Educational Leadership. I was impressed with Concordia and the expertise of the enrollment department. The online opportunity was the deciding factor.
Traveling to the Portland campus to graduate with my peers was an unforgettable experience that I will always treasure. During a luncheon in the library to honor the first online graduates, we were asked if we would be interested in an online doctoral program that they were thinking of developing. I definitely wanted to continue my education and I wanted to earn my doctorate from Concordia!
What skills have you gained or honed as a result of both programs?
Both programs have helped me hone my research and writing skills. I am more confident when I express my opinions in faculty meetings and accept leadership positions in educational activities. Both programs have been instrumental in broadening my worldview and recognizing the need for transformational leadership.
What, if anything, do you appreciate about Concordia’s faith-based values?
Concordia’s faith-based values provide students with direction and purpose as they complete studies and prepare for graduation and the professional workplace. Academics with faith-based values develop the whole student by encouraging spiritual growth as well as intellectual prowess.
What’s one of the challenges that you face as a special education teacher and how do you try to address it?
Special education paperwork is a constant challenge because state department expectations change and audits take time and attention away from instructional focus. I handle this challenge by putting the needs of my students first, and by attending to paperwork details after hours. Their success makes my efforts worthwhile.
What keeps you motivated and passionate about education?
Helping students with disabilities make progress and succeed alongside their non-disabled peers keeps me motivated and passionate about education. Knowledge is power; I want to embolden all students, including students with disabilities, to acknowledge their strengths and competencies, strive to reach their highest potential, and make a commitment to lifelong learning.
What kind of student were you when you were younger, and was this an obvious career path for you?
As a child, I was an eager student who enjoyed school and earned good grades. As I progressed in my studies, I prepared for college by taking college prep courses and considered journalism for my major. I postponed college after high school to get married and have children. I always planned to resume academic studies at some point in my life.
Education was not an obvious career path until I assisted students with disabilities in the work-study program. Prior to that, I thought nursing would be a practical career choice. I was humbled when my mentors at the community college suggested I pursue education as a career. I am thankful for that support, which encouraged me to change my course of study.
Has your MEd or EdD helped you in terms of career advancement?
Having a master’s degree definitely helped me secure my present position at Broome High School. An EdD in Higher Education will provide opportunities for career advancement in public education and in higher education. I expect to stay employed in my district after earning my doctorate while keeping options open for positions in local institutions of higher education.
Many doctoral candidates worry about the dissertation. Can you tell us about your dissertation experience and who or what has helped you?
The dissertation is, without a doubt, the most difficult undertaking I have ever attempted. Concordia’s doctoral program provides the instruction and direction needed to accomplish the goal of determining a research topic and the means with which to execute the dissertation process. Nevertheless, it is a daunting task; without the patience and guidance of my faculty chair, Julie McCann, PhD, I would not be in a position to realize my aspiration to earn a doctorate from Concordia University-Portland.
What is your dissertation topic?
My dissertation topic is sustainability education in higher education curricula. The specific title is “Experiences of Faculty in the Design and Development of Sustainability Education in Higher Education Curricula: A Case Study of a Southeastern College.“ The impetus for my study was the lack of research regarding faculty experiences in the design and development of sustainability education in colleges and universities.
Have you been able to utilize your research to benefit your learning community and/or your career?
My research helps me make meaningful contributions to discussions regarding sustainability education and its impact on local sustainability projects in the community. My research also helps me make suggestions for sustainability objectives in my workplace. I expect to collaborate with area environmentalists in future community projects. I would also be receptive to employment in sustainability education positions.
Do you have any tips regarding time management and work-life balance?
Balancing work and household obligations with doctoral studies is a continual challenge. Unexpected life events have interrupted an already tight schedule for me more than once. But I draw strength from the understanding and support of my family and colleagues, especially when I have to cancel activities to spend time on coursework. It is a priority to stay nourished spiritually.
Although I have very little time during the day while I am in the classroom, I am thankful for the high school schedule with weekends, traditional holidays, and summers away from the classroom. I recommend that doctoral students adopt a healthy regimen if they don’t already have one, and delegate duties whenever it is feasible. Stay positive and disciplined as you juggle the priorities in your life. Trust your abilities and stamina.
What type of impact do you hope to have as a leader in education?
The impact I hope to have in education begins with servant leadership. I want to utilize my experience as a special education teacher to advance progressive objectives and promote individualized assessments as well as individualized instruction. I aspire to become involved in curricular development and advocate for sustainability education.
Kara Wyman earned an MEd and a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder, and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She’s served as the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland and is now the managing editor of Concordia’s Room 241 blog.