Kellie O'Leary didn't spend much time worrying about a future career while growing up. She was too busy preparing for it.
"I was the type of kid who always played school," O'Leary said. "All my siblings and cousins had to do real homework I assigned. I had a card catalogue system for nearly every book and movie in our house.
"When I was in first grade, one of my teachers gave me an old grade book. I filled out every single page with made-up student names and made-up grades. I took attendance. Even when I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a teacher."
O'Leary is a science teacher at Robstown Independent School District in Texas. In December 2017, she graduated with a Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction -- Science Education degree from UTA's online program.
"I always knew I was going to return to higher education for advanced degrees -- I just didn't know when," she said. "I basically waited for the right time and opportunity ... and it happened."
Holding CourtAfter graduating from high school in Schertz, Texas, O'Leary earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Texas A&M-Kingsville, where she was a three-time All-Lone Star Conference selection on the Javelina volleyball team. However, her proudest accomplishment came away from the court.
"I am the first person in my family to attend college and graduate from college," she said. "I'm also the only person in my family, at this point, who has a master's degree. My brother earned his bachelor's degree in 2013, but I'm proud to say I got to start the tradition."
O'Leary started her teaching career at Calallen High School in Corpus Christi in 2010. She then spent time with Tuloso Midway High School and West Oso High School before arriving at Robstown High School in Fall 2017. In addition to her teaching duties, she coaches volleyball and powerlifting, so the online format for the M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction -- Science Education program was a must.
"There was a long gap between completing my bachelor's degree and pursuing my master's degree," O'Leary said. "I was very nervous about being an online student. I thought, 'How on earth am I going to get a master's degree and not sit and listen to lectures in a normal, traditional classroom setting?'
"But, it worked out wonderfully. I was teaching and coaching full time, and I knew I could only work at night and on Sundays. That's partly why the online program worked for me, because I had volleyball during the week and then powerlifting on Saturdays. I was a busy lady -- especially in the spring, right before graduation."
O'Leary chose UTA for her master's program after some school representatives visited her district.
"I wasn't real familiar with UT Arlington, but I knew it was a well-respected research school," she said. "I also wanted to see what the UT system was like compared to the Texas A&M system."
O'Leary found all of the information in the online M.Ed. program applicable to her career -- especially the physical science and earth science courses.
"They were on topic with what I was teaching at the time," she said. "I've been a chemistry teacher since 2010. I'm grateful I took the life science classes, too, because now I'm teaching anatomy."
Throughout her time earning a master's degree, O'Leary had a lot of support from her husband, David Bazan, who is working on a communications degree at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi. She also went through the program with a colleague, Kyle Bowers.
"David supported and encouraged me the entire time," she said. "He worked just as hard as I did."
O'Leary was extremely excited the day her master's degree arrived in the mail.
"I sort of knew if I was going to be doing this online that I wasn't going to be attending graduation," she said. "I kept checking the mailbox for my degree to arrive. The day it did, I ran super-fast all the way back to the house! My hair all windblown! It was a good feeling!"
As much as O'Leary enjoys teaching and coaching, she might switch gears in a few years.
"I'm not sure what my future goals are, but I'd like to pursue an Ed.D. or attend pharmacy school," she said. "To be perfectly honest, I think that I'm capable of more. My perspective has certainly broadened. I just turned 35, so maybe I'll have a doctorate by the time I'm 40 or 45. That'd be great."
Wherever the road takes O'Leary, she is glad she had such positive influences in her life that steered her toward education.
"School was always my favorite place to be when I was a kid," she said. "I had wonderful teachers who told me that I was great every single day. They helped me believe I could do anything."
O'Leary has recommended the UTA M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction online program to several of her fellow educators, including when program representatives came to the school district last fall.
"I made sure I was there to say, 'Everybody needs to sign up for this. It's so convenient and so affordable. It's very doable,'" she said. "I tried to recruit as many people as I could."
O'Leary, who enjoys reading, kickboxing, and spending time with her dogs, also has some scholarly advice for any prospective UTA online students in the College of Education.
"Go for it," she said. "There's nothing to be scared or worried about. Manage your time. Trust yourself and enjoy it. It's rather enjoyable if you let it be."
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction -- Science Education program.
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