Diana Foster had her heart set on becoming an attorney when another profession stepped in and overruled.
"I started substitute teaching at an alternative school with kids who were there because they got in trouble and were sent off their campuses," she said. "I fell in love with those kids. These were at-risk kids who needed somebody to think that they're not a throwaway. I started loving teaching through that experience. It was not something I grew up wanting to do."
After more than 12 years teaching Spanish in the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program at Keller (Texas) Learning Center, Foster became an assistant principal at Fossil Ridge High School in 2017. Two years earlier, she graduated from UTA with a Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies degree that she earned online.
"I was watching my principal and assistant principal and liked what they were doing," Foster said. "I wanted to be a part of that. I started getting really focused on leadership and being a leader on my campus. I sat down with my former principal [Kenneth Anderson] and talked about it. He said, 'I think you'd be great at it. You should go for it.' I took my GRE, applied and started the next fall. It was the desire to pursue leadership."
Foster also brought some leadership experience to the table at her new job. She managed 10 teachers in her department at Keller Learning Center.
"As I'm learning more about this job, I really enjoy it," she said. "I work in a high school that has about 2,300 students. It's somewhat of a large high school, but it's the smallest of the big high schools in Keller. Still, I see my principal [Dave HadleyÎ‘, and he is amazing. My goal is to continue to learn and determine my next goal after that."
Foster chose the fully online format to accommodate her work schedule. It was a good thing she did.
"I was in graduate school at the same time I was planning my wedding," she said. "It was interesting to try to figure that out while working a full-time job. Then, I got married. Then, we were expecting our first child [Isaiah] not long after that. My first baby was born six weeks before I graduated, so I had to finish my last class with an infant. I was able to manage it all."
One of the reasons Foster could balance everything was the understanding of her instructors.
"I had some very helpful professors I was able to tell, 'Hey, I'm going to be having a child. I want to be able to work on this project,'" she said. "They were very wonderful about giving me the project ahead of time so I could prepare in advance to work on it. I was able to work with my work schedule. It was important to be able to be online and work on it at home at 10 o'clock at night, if that's what I needed."
Although she was back in school for the first time since graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001, Foster relied on her previous collegiate experience to thrive.
"I learned a lot from being in college 15 years prior like, 'You know what? I need to not procrastinate this time,'" she said. "I would get started pretty early on my assignments and not wait until Sunday evening to do them. I usually had them turned in on Wednesday. I was about 35 years old when I did the M.Ed. There was a lot of difference from being 18 and attending college."
Foster found the ideal situation for her needs in a master's degree program.
"I applied and was accepted to two graduate schools," Foster said. "The other school had a hybrid program, which meant that most of it would have been online, but I also would have had to drive and do face-to-face on a Saturday about five times a semester. I thought, 'I don't think I'm going to do that and work full-time during the week.' Ultimately, price, accessibility of the online program and the fact that it's in the UT system led me to UTA."
On the Record
Especially since she was already in a leadership position, the majority of the curriculum in the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies online program was applicable to Foster's career.
However, her favorite courses focused on her first love.
"I enjoyed all of the courses that had to do with legal aspects of education," Foster said. "I find it very interesting. That's what I love about this job -- some of the behind-the-scenes, legal things that help the program."
She also enjoyed the graduation ceremony that put the finishing touches on her return to higher education.
"I'm a big fan of commencement ceremonies," she said. "I had a friend who graduated with her bachelor's degree at about age 45, and I made her go to hers. I think you have to go to it. You need to have your five minutes."
Foster had a lot of support from her friends, family and colleagues while she was in the program.
"They thought it was great," she said. "I was single but dating someone who turned out to be my husband [Richard]. He was absolutely very supportive of it.
"He always knew whenever I went back to school that, 'She has homework she has to do,' and that I am a very goal-oriented person. We are very similar in that respect. We both believe in the power of education and what it can do for you. It's just absolutely made my life flourish. He's been wonderful about it."
The couple are expecting their second child, a girl, in August 2018. Both are big college sports fans, although Richard's allegiances lie with the University of Oklahoma, a University of Texas conference rival.
"I married a Sooner, against my better judgment," she joked. "We get into the sports of our rival colleges. We go to the football game [in Dallas] every year. We sit together, but we may not next year. This was our sixth time to go together. He has season tickets for OU, so we have to always sit in the OU section. That's very challenging for me."
Now that Foster has landed the assistant principal job she had in mind when she went to UTA for a master's degree, she is excited to apply what she learned on an even more frequent basis.
"For someone like me who was a little bit older when I started and starting a family, it's just absolutely the perfect way to do it," she said. "You have a lot of people who are my age and think, 'I would like to go back to school, but I can't.' This is a way that's absolutely doable. It's a way you can do it on your own time, with your own mindset, with your own goals in place. Just do it with integrity."
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program.
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