Debra Jemison had decades of experience in education, but she needed an advanced degree to move forward in her career.
“I just knew I needed a master’s,” said Jemison, who enrolled in the Master of Education in Educational Leadership and Management online program at Fitchburg State University.
“I felt I needed to learn more about education, leadership and management because I went to school for business and finance. I didn’t get a degree in teaching, but I have worked over 30 years in leadership and management prior to attending Fitchburg State.”
In her current role at the school department in Concord, Massachusetts, Jemison serves as a METCO [Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity] academic liaison.
METCO places Boston’s inner-city kids in different suburban towns to give them a better education and increase diversity in the predominantly white schools. As a bus monitor, Jemison helps transport 36 middle-school students to and from Concord Public Middle School each day.
She knew she needed a degree program that would suit her schedule. She’s up at 3:00 a.m. to allow for the commute to Concord and student pickups in Boston, followed by drop-offs at the end of the school day.
“I couldn’t fit in the classroom on a college campus because it just wouldn’t have worked,” she said.
Taking one class every seven-week term over two years, Jemison completed the master’s degree program in May 2020.
Jemison has no doubt that she will be putting everything she learned in her master’s program to work in her career, but the course that had the greatest impact on her understanding of the educational system was EDLM 8037: Education Law for the Administrator.
“I like how law plays an essential part in helping children,” she said. “The law class dealt with a lot of the special education laws and the application of how children are treated when it comes to their education.”
In addition, Jemison learned about using a data-driven approach for educational leadership.
“I had a class [EDLM 8033: Using Data to Improve Student Learning], which broke down how the children learned and the different dynamics of how the data was used in order to teach,” she said.
Jemison was able to get hands-on experience in collecting and analyzing data to improve student outcomes while making the coursework relevant to the students she works with through METCO.
“What I kept in mind is each class that I did, and each paper that I had to do in the end, was try to formulate that paper around the METCO students that I had worked with,” she said. “They had a part in every piece of the classwork.”
Despite her hectic work schedule, Jemison was able to squeeze in some learning whenever she could find the time, and she still managed to be an active participant in her class discussion boards.
“I did a lot of my reading on the bus in the morning while on my way to Boston to get the kids, and then I was reading at my lunchtime,” she said. “I also tried to respond to everybody [on the discussion boards].”
For all the progress Jemison made, she faced a setback that threatened to stall her dreams of earning a master’s degree.
“On February 2nd, I took an extremely hard fall that knocked me out of work for three weeks,” she said. “I had a hematoma on my eye and two completely torn rotator cuffs. It was on a Sunday and I had something due when I called my professor at 6 or 7 o’clock at night, crying.”
In talking to her professor, Jemison found empathy and a way forward.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to finish, but he made me feel so important and told me to just calm myself down, that it was going to be okay and that he would work with me no matter what to help me get through,” she said. “All of the professors are like that. They take you at your word, and they help to lead and guide you where you need to go.”
It’s not surprising that Fitchburg State University made an impression on Jemison.
“If you really want to do this and you really want to move in the direction that’s going to help you and help your family, Fitchburg State would be the best school to get your master’s in any field,” she said.
Now a master’s graduate, Jemison can celebrate an accomplishment she and her family are proud of.
“They wanted to see me advance,” she said. “I’m an older woman, so I never thought that I could go back this late in the game. It didn’t even dawn on me until I filled out the application to graduate. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I really did this!'”