Elizabeth Alaniz, mother of three, is working toward her life-long dream of earning a doctorate. She recently returned to college to earn both a Master of Education in Educational Leadership and a Superintendent Certification through online programs offered by the University of Texas at Arlington.
She hopes to inspire dreams in her children through her academic accomplishments.
“My daughter [Natalie] says, ‘Mom, when you became a doctor, do I have to call you Doctor Mom?'” Alaniz said with a laugh. “I said, ‘No, I’m still mom.’ She’s eight. I see it as an inspiration for my kids to set that bar high as far as what they should be achieving and seeing for themselves.”
Alaniz, whose other two children are Joshua (10) and Nathan (8), hopes her influence will also extend beyond her own household.
“For other little girls out there seeing a Hispanic woman who is getting her education, being a mom, going to work and making it all work and balancing it all together is an inspiration for all of them, in my opinion,” Alaniz said. “Another reason I wanted to get the Superintendent Certification is the percentage of superintendent women in the state of Texas is 19 percent, and the percentage of those who are Hispanic women is a lot less. I want to break that stigma and go through that glass barrier and become a Hispanic superintendent woman.”
Alaniz, who works in Weslaco Independent School District’s central office and lives in Alamo, Texas, was eager to return to college after she earned a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Texas-Pan American (now University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) in 2005. Once she discovered she could earn a degree online, she jumped at the chance.
“The timing was right,” she said. “The opportunity opened up doing it online versus in person. Considering I had just given birth to my twins, I was hard at work as a teacher, tutoring and extracurricular activities, so it would have been difficult to make it to class at a local university. At the time, I was part of the first cohort group with UTA for the master’s program. They made it accessible for me to get it done that way.”
Another reason she decided to go to UTA was her familiarity with the University of Texas system.
“I was doing Google searches and weighing the differences between the different online programs,” Alaniz said. “That’s when I figured this one would be the best fit for me. I looked at the coursework. I looked at how long it was going to take for me to get it done. I looked at cost. I weighed all of the different factors. I already graduated from the UT system with my bachelor’s, so I wanted to continue in the UT system, as well.”
The online format allowed her to balance work and being a mom to her kids, who were “in Pampers at the time.”
“After work, of course, I liked being home with my kids,” she said. “I’d get online, check out my classes, be part of the discussion board, take whatever test or do whatever assignment I had to.”
Her husband, Roy, earned a master’s degree at UTPA, so Alaniz was able to compare online versus on-campus. He is an administrator and teacher in the Donna ISD.
“I feel like the coursework I went through better prepared me for the principal exam,” Alaniz said. “It was a lot more intense — the reading, the discussions and the content itself was intense. It was very thorough. He saw me go through mine and he thought, ‘I could have done mine so much quicker.'”
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Alaniz originally planned to become an engineer because of her gift for math, but her mother, Adriana, helped steer her toward education.
“I’m a first-generation college graduate,” Alaniz said. “I’m the oldest of four, and I’m the only one with a college degree. My mom worked at a private school for which, of course, you don’t need a teaching certificate or a degree when you start.”
Adriana convinced her to stay home for school rather than attend the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she had planned to major in architectural engineering.
“In staying, I ended up getting my degree in math and going into teaching,” Alaniz said. “I kind of wanted to go against what she did, but I ended up doing what she did. Ultimately, she was my inspiration. It’s one of those things where God kind of told me, ‘You need to go back and work with kids. I don’t think this if for you.’ That’s how I ended up staying in education; I never pursued engineering after that. Since I was a little girl, I’ve always said, ‘I’m going to be a doctor.’ I’ve always had that in my head.”
Alaniz graduated from the master’s program in 2011 and from the Superintendent Certification program in December 2016. She says she hopes to start a doctoral program in 2018.
“It was just natural for me to do the Superintendent Certification program through UTA because I had already done my master’s through them,” she said. “A few years ago, when I found out they were offering the superintendency online, I thought, ‘I know the professors, and I know the way they work. I know what’s expected of me. I might as well just get it done, too.”
Once again, Alaniz feels like the timing will be perfect for her to start on a doctorate within the next year.
“I think my kids are at the right age,” she said. “They’re still young and not in all of these activities where I have to be at football practice or cheerleading practice. They’re still clingy. They just want me to be in the room. With online, I’m sitting right next to them on the couch, and they’re okay with that. This is a win-win situation where I still get to pursue my dreams of being a doctor.”
As a teacher, we see only so much in the education system. When you get your master’s, it opens you up to a whole new world of education.
Alaniz said her favorite courses in both online programs focused on law.
“They really intrigued me,” she said. “Anything to do with law, case studies behind it and how to bring up the laws in certain situations — those were definitely my favorite. Right now there is a lot going on with bullying, the cyber issues and how that affects students, like what is considered harassment? What is considered bullying? Another one of the hot topics coming up is the restroom situation and how we deal with that in an education setting and the law that will defend that. It was fascinating because it’s so current.”
Although she said it was a lot of hard work and late nights, Alaniz said earning a master’s degree online was well worth the effort.
“You need to be self-motivated,” she said. “As long as you have that drive, that self-motivation and that support from your family and friends to get it done and faith, I say go for it. I believe it’s something everybody should have. It was a great eye-opener when it comes to the system of education. As a teacher, we see only so much in the education system. When you get your master’s, it opens you up to a whole new world of education.”
Alaniz, who grew up in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo area, said she enjoys photography and takes part in barbeque competitions with her parents.
“We compete in anything IBCA [International Barbeque Cookers Association]-related,” she said. “We cook everything. There are three competition meats — brisket, chicken and pork ribs. We do about two competitions a month. In the summer, we do maybe one a month because it’s so hot down here.”
In addition to cooking meat with her family, she also got a tremendous amount of help from them while she earned her degree and certificate online.
“There were times when I told my mom, ‘I need some quiet time. Could you please take the kids?'” Alaniz said. “Same thing with my husband: ‘Would you please just take them so I can go to Starbucks and study.’ Just having that support system helps.
“They’re very supportive. I can’t complain. Nobody said, ‘Well, you can’t do that.’ Now that they know I want to continue classes in the doctoral program, they’re extremely supportive. I think they’re kind of looking forward to it — especially my kids.”
Learn more about the UTA online master’s in education programs.
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