Pleshette Williams never had a bigger cheerleader in her life than her middle child, Shawn.
"He would come ask me anything," she said. "One time, he wanted me to run for mayor of our city. He kept telling me, 'You should go back to school. You should get your master's degree. You should get your doctorate.'"
Three years after Williams tragically lost her son in an accident in 2012, she graduated with a Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the online program at the University of Texas at Arlington.
"I had been thinking about earning a master's degree for a long time," Williams said. "After Shawn passed away, it was more like a memorial to him."
Williams, a teacher in Baytown, Texas, hopes to move into an administrative role. She has worked for Goose Creek Independent School District for five years.
"I don't know if I want to be a principal, but I could see myself being in an administrative position," she said. "I recently interviewed for an instructional coach position. I am trying to move up slowly, one step at a time."
Several factors led Williams to UTA after she did extensive online research.
"The program seemed affordable and doable," she said. "When I told one of my co-workers I was looking at UTA, she spoke very highly of the program. She is from the Arlington area, had several friends who went on campus through the program and talked about how great it was."
Sowing the Seeds
Williams was a stay-at-home mom to her three children — Shawn, Tyler (25) and Brandon (22) — for several years before pursuing a teaching career.
"I started off homeschooling my daughter, Tyler," she said. "When my sons came of age where I could also start teaching them, it got frustrating because my daughter was gifted, but it was still something I enjoyed doing because she would answer all of the questions correctly. I thought, 'I probably have a talent for this. I should go back to school and try to be a teacher."'
After Williams graduated with a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on elementary education from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 2008, she landed a position in the Pasadena ISD. The online format made her return to higher education possible.
"It was very manageable," she said. "I don't think I had the time to go into a classroom or drive to a campus. Being able to study online, download things and go on Blackboard was very convenient. I liked the flexibility.
"My daughter also got married and had a baby, so I could still be grandma while I was in the master's degree program. After everybody went to bed, I said, 'I need to go work on my paper."'
EDAD 5381: Political and Legal Aspects of Education was the course Williams found the most intriguing in the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies curriculum.
"It was very interesting and different than I thought it would be," she said. "It went more in depth and into the actual law. There were times where I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm in a law course.'
"I thought we would just skim the basics, like Brown vs. the Board of Education, the laws that came out of that and the ones educators really need to be aware of, but it went much deeper into the causes and the verbiage."
Although Williams was not in an administrative role while in the program, she still found some of the knowledge applicable to her job, and she feels confident the program prepared her for a leadership position.
"The curriculum and instruction course [EDAD 5305: Curriculum Design, Implementation & Evaluation] especially applied to lessons and lesson planning," she said. "The master's degree opened up a lot of doors for me. I was able to get into an aspiring administrators academy because of it."
Williams is the first person in her immediate family to earn a master's degree, although she did not attend the commencement ceremony in Arlington.
"I didn't go because it was too emotional," she said. "My friends and family were excited about me finishing. They were also supportive of my decision to not attend graduation and understood why. They threw me this big graduation party at home and invited everybody."
The support didn't stop there. Williams also received help along the way from the UTA staff.
"I missed a tuition payment one time," she said. "Even with that, my adviser was very accommodating. I was stressed out. He said, 'Calm down. It happens.' I was able to do an alternate assignment in place of that class to keep me on track.
"Not being face to face or building that relationship in person, it surprised me that he was willing to do that. It's a heck of a program. It's very convenient and doable, but you have to keep up with the schedule of the classes and the tuition."
Although Williams would give anything to have Shawn back, she believes he remains proud of her and is still cheering her on, every step of the way.
"Earning the master's degree was very emotional, but it was also motivating because several times I thought that I got in over my head and needed to quit," she said. "Then, I would think about him and keep going."
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program.
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