When the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the world, Jessica O’Dwyer adapted.
“I was originally going for a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in literacy,” said O’Dwyer, a middle-school teacher in Canfield, Ohio. “When everything happened with COVID-19, I got into some crossover technology courses, and it was so relevant.”
So, O’Dwyer is now enrolled in the Master of Science in Education – Teacher Education – Curriculum and Instruction – Digital Teaching and Learning online program at Youngstown State University. She is on track to complete the program in January 2022.
“Especially after this is over, we’re probably never going back to the way it was,” she said. “This is going to change the way we view learning, so I thought digital teaching and learning was such a timely program. In education, it definitely benefits you to have a master’s degree.”
Changing direction is nothing new for O’Dwyer. She worked on the General Motors assembly line for almost nine years before she became an educator two years ago. She and her husband, Tom, have two children — Avery (13) and Paden (15).
“It wasn’t until I had kids of my own and they started school that I became an advocate for their education and thought about going into the education field,” she said. “I am a non-traditional student who had a career change.”
The fully online format gives O’Dwyer the flexibility to earn a master’s degree while teaching fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade math as well as English language arts as a Title 1 teacher at Canfield Village Middle School.
“It’s been fantastic,” she said. “The way that it’s set up, I know all of my assignments at the beginning of the week. You have the week to do everything. I can work from home and work in the evenings.
“It’s a great alternative to having to go on campus. My kids also play sports. Because they don’t drive yet, I am their chauffer, so I have to fit that into my schedule. The program is wonderful for that.”
As O’Dwyer embarked on a career in education, she graduated from the Bachelor of Science in Junior High/Intermediate/Middle School Education on-campus program at Youngstown State in 2018. She enrolled in the M.S. Ed. program earlier this year.
“I looked at some other programs for the master’s degree and know people who went to other schools,” she said. “I had so much familiarity with Youngstown State, and I love the professors here — especially in the education department.
“It’s a quality degree from a reputable school. When I went to get a teaching job with my undergraduate degree, the teachers and administrators I encountered said, ‘You’re from YSU? That’s great. We love YSU teachers.'”
Although O’Dwyer was a bit apprehensive about enrolling in an online master’s degree program, she had no trouble acclimating.
“It was intimidating because I had never taken an online course before,” she said. “It was so much easier than I thought it would be. I recently started my fourth course, but I had the same professor, Dr. Lauren Cummins, for my first three. She was amazing and quick to respond when I had a question.”
O’Dwyer looks forward to the remainder of the courses in the online M.S. Ed. – Teacher Education – Curriculum and Instruction – Digital Teaching and Learning program curriculum. She is especially excited about TCED 6912: Gaming for Educators.
“I have been able to use the information in the program in my classroom,” she said. “It provides a lot of great resources for coming up with different apps and online tools I can use with my students. Even since the time I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, a lot has changed.”
Another aspect of the master’s degree program that O’Dwyer enjoys is the ability to work at her own pace. She is taking one course per semester to have plenty of time for her job and family.
“My husband is my biggest cheerleader,” she said. “He told me, ‘If you don’t do it now, you’re never going to do it. Take advantage of it while you can.'”
O’Dwyer believes that a graduate degree will lead to more career opportunities and maybe another change of direction down the road. She will be the first person in her immediate family to earn a master’s degree.
“Once I have been in the classroom for a while, I might eventually like to teach at the university level in a teacher preparation program,” she said. “That would be great.”
Now that O’Dwyer is solidifying her second career with graduate-level education in one of the most relevant areas of study in the current climate, she is glad that her path led to Youngstown State.
“I have a co-worker who is also a YSU graduate,” she said. “She recently applied for the same master’s degree program. I told her that it’s a great program. I would recommend it to anyone thinking about continuing their education.”