Jennifer Willcott was ready to lead.
Her desire to become a principal led her to the Master of Science in Educational Administration online program at Emporia State University.
"It's a calling," said Willcott, a third-grade teacher in the USD 430 South Brown County school district in Horton, Kansas.
"I want to help guide teachers in their pursuit of being the best they can be and not ever lose their passion for wanting to teach and grow as individuals. I want to help encourage other teachers to go beyond their comfort zone."
When Willcott began looking for a master's degree program, Emporia State stood out for not only its reputation but also its responsiveness.
"I wanted to be more prepared," she said. "When I went to Emporia's website, they called me and asked me, 'Do you have any questions?' And that kind of customer service – being on it – enticed me to want to be part of the program. It's a more prominent, respected university for the educational field."
Spreading the coursework out over two years enabled Willcott to devote time to her job and her three children.
Degree in hand, she is now ready to start putting her education to work.
"I love leading and encouraging people, and I love rigor and success for all – I just want to be a part of that," she said. "I want to be a principal because I feel I have the leadership skills to help guide others."
Learning online was the only option for Willcott, who lives in a small community, miles away from any university.
"I would not have been able to accomplish my master's if it were not online. There's some skepticism out there on the accelerated programs online," she said. "Some people do not understand how much rigor is actually in the programs."
Of all the courses she took, EA 849: Educational Law and Regulations stood out.
"It was the hardest, it was the most demanding, and I learned so much," she said. "Dr. Tim Marshall was super hands-on and very understanding."
Willcott is grateful for the leadership skills she gained throughout the program.
"Learning how to be that leader and how to be understanding of people's needs helps focus on building those relationships with the whole entire school, not just teachers," she said. "So, you're talking custodians and kitchen staff. The program is built to help you understand the whole concept of the school inside and out."
Even though Willcott went at her own pace, completing a master's degree online took a lot of hard work and dedication.
"It's time management and prioritizing," she said. "I have three kids in traveling sports, and I work 35 minutes from home. You get to work early and you prioritize. "
The fruits of Willcott's labor are evident in her 4.0 GPA, with the schedule she created for herself and her determination seeing her through. She graduated summa cum laude with honors.
"I got my studies done either before or after school, or I'd sit there and I'd do my work during two-hour soccer practices," she said. "It's a balancing act."
Keeping the Focus
Earning a master's degree takes effort, and the online program fit seamlessly into Willcott's life.
"I did not lose time away from my children," she said. "I've encouraged a couple of other people to try Emporia."
Willcott's husband, Sean, was supportive, and her education became a family priority.
"He's opening a business and working full time," she said. "He would do anything I needed to help, to get things done. If I was working on an assignment or taking a test or writing a paper and I needed time to myself, he would say, 'Whatever you need. What do you need help with?'
Completing the program while working full time and balancing a household as a parent gave Willcott a sense of accomplishment.
"I wanted to showcase to my kids that no matter how old you are, if you have a dream, you can conquer and set your mind to anything and do it," she said.
She's proud she made it to the finish line and set a good example for her children.
"Being that role model for my kids means a lot to me," she said. "It shows in our hard work and dedication to what we want to do with our lives. I now have a high schooler starting in the fall, and she's seen that college is important for going up in your career."
The ease with which Willcott could navigate the master's program has her extolling the benefits of online education to family and friends alike.
"I encourage people to do it," she said. "As long as you can prioritize, manage your time wisely and stay focused, it's fantastic, especially for people who have children and work full time. But you have to want it!"
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