NC State Online Education Graduates Reflect on Teaching and Learning

NC State Online offers more than 20 online and distance education graduate programs in the College of Education, reflecting its commitment to providing accessible, high-quality education and teaching students to do the same. Five master’s students are sharing their path to graduation while demonstrating the diversity of programs, real-world applications and student experiences that are offered. 

Allison Faulkenberry is a high school mathematics teacher in Mooresville, North Carolina. She will graduate with a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) – Mathematics Education, marking a new chapter in an already long teaching career. 

Kimberly Ideus is a high school science teacher in Hillsborough, North Carolina. She will graduate with a MAT in Science Education – Secondary Education. Ideus completed the distance education program while working as a full-time lateral entry science teacher. 

Jacob Henshaw will start a new role on June 1 as the director of marketing and recruiting for the Graduate School at Western Carolina University. He will graduate with an M.Ed. in College Counseling and Student Development. He previously applied his studies as an academic advisor for Wake Technical Community College. 

Elvia Rodriguez Mejia is a high school mathematics teacher in Mount Olive, North Carolina. She will graduate this summer with an M.Ed. in STEM Education – Mathematics and Statistics. She wanted to become a bilingual mathematics teacher to help those who have a strong interest in mathematics while learning a new language. 

Lindsey Hensler Sachs is a gifted education facilitator and enrichment teacher in Morrisville, North Carolina. She will graduate with an M.Ed. in Elementary Education – Science. Sachs is a leader in the Wake County Public School System and looks forward to applying what she has learned. 

These graduates are ready to put their studies into practice. First, they’re looking back on the hard work that brought them here. 

Why did you pursue your degree from NC State Online? 

Head shot of Allison Faulkenberry in front of flowers.
Allison Faulkenberry, Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) – Mathematics Education

Allison Faulkenberry, MAT: I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. On the edge of the economic recession, hiring for new graduates was limited, so I decided to try teaching since math teachers were in demand. Even though I had not originally planned to pursue teaching as a lifelong career, after a few years I realized that I loved teaching and developed a true passion for it. I loved the school where I was teaching and I wanted to keep teaching full time, so I knew I needed to choose a part-time MAT program. Living in rural North Carolina with few MAT programs nearby, I also knew I needed a program that was entirely online. After doing some research, I found that NC State’s MAT program offered an online and distance education program and, unlike other universities at the time, offered a MAT path specific to secondary mathematics teachers. Additionally, I knew NC State had a reputation for having an excellent education program with exceptional faculty. A MAT degree from NC State would mean obtaining a degree from a respectable university and learning from the best of the best. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I was accepted into the program, and I never had any doubt in choosing to attend NC State for my MAT degree.

Professional head shot of Elvia Mejia
Elvia Mejia, M.Ed. in STEM Education – Mathematics and Statistics

Elvia Mejia, M.Ed. in STEM Education: I chose to pursue my Master of Education in STEM Education – Mathematics Education because when my parents brought me to this country, they worked so hard to give me an education. They told me that whatever I achieved in school, no one would be able to take away, and I promised them that I would not stop until I earned the doctorate title. This program is giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to continue pursuing my dream and to fulfill my promise. I chose NC State because of the great opportunity it presented me with. I always looked at NC State as a great university and have heard many good things about it. It is also all online! I am able to work to provide for my family and continue my education. I am thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to be part of this program and to be a living example to my students, my family and friends that hard work pays off and people like me and them can achieve their dreams.

Head shot of Lindsey Hensler Sachs
Lindsey Hensler Sachs, M.Ed. in Elementary Education – Science

Lindsey Hensler Sachs, M.Ed. in Elementary Education: I had a unique drive to complete this work. I began a similar master’s program at another institution for science education in 2016 and was unable to complete the coursework as a result of my teaching placement and obligations. I was extremely disappointed with the outcome of my experience and my own failures. To avoid a similar failure, I had intentional discussions with my school administration and the academic advisor at NC State to know that this program would be the right fit for me.

Of course, a wide assortment exists for teachers interested in cohort-based, part-time master’s degree programs. However, many science education programs target middle and high school teachers. The whole point of my drive for this work was to make high-quality science instruction more accessible to students at the elementary level. The balance between education, science content and science education courses offered by this program assured me that I would be provided with the range and resources necessary to be successful. Even with a study guide in hand on the eve of my wedding, I haven’t looked back since my decision to enroll in this program.

Describe your experience in your program.

Head shot of Jacob Henshaw in front of water.
Jacob Henshaw, M.Ed. in College Counseling and Student Development

Jacob Henshaw, M.Ed. in College Counseling and Student Development: From the outset of the program, I felt incredibly supported and encouraged by the faculty and my peers. Over the last three years, I have had the opportunity to learn from and grow with some of the best peers that anybody could ask for. The cohort-based format of this program allows for deep relationships and bonds to be formed among the students. I am confident that my peers and I will continue to grow together in the counseling field over the years.

Professional head shot of Kimberly Ideus.
Kimberly Ideus, MAT in Science Education – Secondary Education

Kimberly Ideus, MAT: My experience in the MAT Science Education program has been superb! I definitely believe that I got to be in courses with some of the very best educators. Besides great professors, I have created lasting friendships and professional connections with several of my classmates, particularly those from my methods courses. There was certainly a good variety of courses that are required for degree completion, including some that I didn’t truly appreciate until their completion or when a specific scenario arose in my classroom. Being a lateral entry teacher allowed me to put into practice several of the techniques or technologies that I was learning about pretty much immediately within my own classroom; that was really a huge benefit to me as a new teacher and a way that I was able to share new strategies with my more seasoned colleagues.

Lindsey Hensler Sachs, M.Ed. in Elementary Education: I have had a meaningful and fulfilling experience in my Elementary Education – Science program. People may question how one can feel truly a part of a community in a distance education program. What I found was a truly unique community made up of teachers from across the state of North Carolina from a wide range of teaching assignments and geographic areas. I have been able to benefit from the diversity of teachers and school systems represented in my program. As practicing educators, we were able to apply what we learned in our program in different settings and then come back together as a group to discuss the implementation. As one person, I could have learned material and applied it in my own teaching position, but sharing and reflecting on the experiences as a group increased my exposure and understanding to the full potential of many different teaching strategies and lessons that we learned in this program. Furthermore, a cohort model allowed me to build relationships over time with other students as we had the opportunity to take multiple courses together. While our program may not be large, having smaller classes also gave us more time for feedback from each other and instructors. As a result, we have been able to support each other in our journey to achieving our master’s degrees. I would have never guessed that upon graduation from a distance learning program, the community would be my favorite part of the experience, but it truly is. 

How did you balance working and completing your degree? 

Allison Faulkenberry, MAT: Since beginning the MAT program in 2016, I have worked as a full-time math teacher and have had two children as well. While thinking that balancing my coursework, career, and growing family seemed an impossible feat, I let my love for family and teaching drive me through. The quality of the MAT program stoked my passion for teaching, so finding time during the week to work on coursework was not a burden. The expectations of the professors for completing coursework was very reasonable and they were very cognizant of giving meaningful assignments. Additionally, I was able to work through the program at a pace that was comfortable for my busy life, taking only one or two classes per semester and during the summer.

Elvia Mejia, M.Ed. in STEM Education: One of the biggest blessings in my life is my mother. When my planning period wasn’t enough time for me to set up my classroom for the next day and I had homework to do, she would take care of my daughter so that I could complete all my work, even when that meant arriving at home at 8 pm. I keep an agenda in my desk at all times with due dates and notes to keep me on track, and I have been teaching the same subject all year round for three years, so planning for teaching was not too complicated.

Jacob Henshaw, M.Ed. in College Counseling and Student Development: Balancing work and school was a difficult task over the past three years. I worked full-time for the duration of the program. Throughout the years, self-care has been an important focus for me. In my spare time, I would make sure that I would spend intentional time with my family as these are the people who keep me balanced.

How do you see your degree helping you in your current career, or how has it already impacted your work? 

Kimberly Ideus, MAT: As a lateral entry teacher, I had constant access to my own “action research” subjects! I appreciated being able to learn about a student grouping method or inquiry activity in an evening class session and then almost immediately put that learning to use in my classroom. I teach Biology, which requires an End of Course (EOC) exam. One of my courses required a formal action research project that helped me strategize material to help my students retain more information and improve their proficiency scores, which is exactly what we saw when their scores came back! Being in the MAT has allowed me to really grow as an educator, and I am able to share that knowledge with my colleagues. We have a fairly small department, so being able to contribute to their successes is gratifying as well!

Allison Faulkenberry, MAT: Reflecting on my experience at NC State, I have come to realize how much I have grown as an educator since beginning the program. Although I had taught full time for 8 years prior to beginning the program, I had not completed a single teaching course, and I did not have any official mentors to guide my teaching methods. I did not know the value of these until being a part of NC State’s MAT program. This program has molded my thinking about education and has challenged me to use methods of teaching that are different from the ways of the past. I am now an advocate for student-driven learning in my classroom by using engaging tasks and projects instead of lecturing on the board in the classroom each day. I also use technology in the classroom in meaningful ways to help students visualize concepts, collaborate with others, and receive quick feedback during the learning process.

This program has invited me to be a part of a community of teachers who will continue to support my teaching journey by offering advice, motivation, and resources throughout my career.

I have also gained confidence in myself as a teacher as a result of completing this program. I feel that I have the confidence to use what I’ve learned and share it with other math teachers. 

Jacob Henshaw, M.Ed. in College Counseling and Student Development: I am confident that I would not have been considered in the search for the role that I have recently accepted at Western Carolina University. I am grateful that I chose to pursue this degree as it has already provided career advancement!

Did you have any faculty members who stood out to you?

Jacob Henshaw, M.Ed. in College Counseling and Student Development: Dr. Angela Smith. She is such an encouraging and supportive person. Throughout this program, she has always been there for me as well as my peers. Dr. Smith has continuously shown me how to be a better counselor and a better person. I am thankful for the role that she has in this program and in my development as a counselor.

Kimberly Ideus, MAT: Dr. Gail Jones was a methods professor, and I loved her course and style so much that I rearranged my plan of work to be able to take her elective course on environmental science. I’d never considered myself interested in environmental science prior to that course, but after taking it, I feel like I could absolutely jump into that content and deliver an awesome course for high school students! She has encouraged me to continue pushing myself, and I’m grateful for her belief in me!

Dr. Soonhye Park was also a methods professor for me, but more importantly, she has served as my advisor. I appreciate her wisdom and continued willingness to help me be successful in this program and in teaching.

Allison Faulkenberry, MAT: One of my favorite professors was Dr. Hollylynne Lee. Her passion for teaching statistics really inspired me to change the way I teach my AP Statistics class. She gave me a holistic outlook on statistics that I never knew before and shared a multitude of resources for making statistics engaging and fun for the students. Even after completing her course, she allowed me to reach out to her for additional advice and resources to use in my statistics class.

Additionally, I am very grateful for the relationship between myself and my professor and advisor Dr. Cynthia Edgington. Dr. Edgington went above and beyond her advising and educating duties to reach out to me periodically to check on how I was doing. She was my go-to person for any questions I had about my degree path or about teaching in general. She was always quick to respond to my emails and would happily meet through a video conference on the drop of a hat. I am very grateful for her guidance during the completion of my degree and consider her as a mentor and friend.

What is your advice for other working professionals who are thinking about continuing their education or are currently enrolled in a master’s program?

Elvia Mejia, M.Ed. in STEM Education: If you are thinking about it, I would say don’t think twice and just do it! It will be a great experience that will prepare you for the future. If you are already in, I would say keep up the good work! It may be hard work, but in the end, it is worth it.

It allows people an opportunity to continue their education and provide for their families. Professors are very flexible and understanding and they will help you along the way.

Kimberly Ideus, MAT: My advice is to ask a lot of questions upfront, plan out what continuing education could look like with a realistic timeline, and then just tackle it. I did end up adjusting my program to include one more semester than I originally planned, but it was the right decision for me and my family. Having the online component was key for me, particularly because driving to campus for classes all of the time wouldn’t have been the best fit for my situation. It allowed me to log in for class, and then once class ended, I could shut my computer and go hang out with my kids and husband. 

Lindsey Hensler Sachs, M.Ed. in Elementary Education: As full-time educators, we are well-versed in advocating for the needs of our students, but sometimes that means that we neglect to advocate for ourselves. I would highly recommend that any educators enrolled in online programs avoid brushing off initial concerns about assignments or the structure of their program and instead ask questions. After all, isn’t this exactly what we direct our students to do when they are confused? Instead of leaving information unknown, look for clarification in meaningful ways to save yourself time, stress, and confusion to be successful in an online program.

Congratulations to all of our NC State Online and College of Education graduates!

Are you interested in advancing your career with a master’s degree in education from NC State Online? Visit the program pages and online.ncsu.edu for a full list of degree and certificate programs.