One Step at a Time
I woke up one day in August 2018 and found I was suddenly in a doctorate program. This is how things happen sometimes. I was minding my own business, and bam, now I’m knee-deep in a life-altering and challenging program. I believe I have a natural zest for living and hate to say no to opportunities. Typically, this means road trips and adventures. But this one was a doozy. Going back to school was not on my radar as I turned 50. I love my job at ACTC and have had my master’s degree in math education, which qualifies me to teach my subject since 1992. Did you count that? I had been out of school for almost 30 years!
One of my colleagues, Mia, found a program at the University of Kentucky that didn’t sound half bad. She said, “It is right up your alley. Most of the program instructors are math educators”, “you’ll love it, just try it.” So, I tried it, thinking I would be supportive and take it one step at a time. I can’t believe I stepped all the way through to the end. I never planned this and didn’t mention it too much along the way, especially at first. I didn’t want everyone to know I started if I decided not to finish. Turns out she was right; the program was just right for me. I love the classroom, and this program was just perfect. The program was a Ph.D. in STEM Education. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. I have only known the math part of that acronym and knew that I needed more of the science background. This program stretched me in many unexpected ways.
First off, an astronomy loving instructor built an entire course around concepts involving the moon. I call this my first humbling! The course design was to reveal preconceived notions and build learning. This course, Project-Based Learning in STEM, met each Monday in Fall 2018. Mia and I drove to Lexington for the in-person experience. Here each week, I knew there would be a moment of gotcha, revealing my lack of knowledge in a subject in which one should be familiar. As painful as this was, I’m confident it was good for me. Certainly, reminding me of the student experience. It is good to remember, right?!
I took courses such as Curriculum in STEM, Equity in STEM, History of Higher Education, Project-Based Learning in STEM, Research Methods in STEM. There were electives that I greatly enjoyed as well. I was permitted to take two courses from MSU: psychology and an online teaching methods course. Additionally, there were six research statistics courses.
Altogether, I took 49 credit hours and completed a dissertation, Smartphone Apps and Proctoring in College Algebra. For the dissertation, I have been reading the literature review for the last couple of years. I could boil it all down to say, I have been reading and writing in all spare moments over the previous 3.5 years. My reading has focused on studies involving Appalachians, online strategies, proctored versus non-proctored assessment results in various content areas, and technology in the classroom.
Friday, December 17th, 2021, I will graduate from the University of Kentucky with my Ph.D. in STEM Education. I am super proud of the accomplishment. Additionally, I am thankful for the support of the college in this endeavor. Also, a call out to my math colleagues who have been with me each step of the way! I am blessed to work in such a wonderful environment that feels much like a family. But honestly, at this moment, I am just so happy to get my life back!
To my students, I say, you’re never too old to go back to school, and the key is to take it one step at a time. Show up and keep moving forward!
Cynthia M. Shelton is a Professor of Mathematics at ACTC. She will graduate from the University of Kentucky with a Ph.D. in STEM Education, December 2021. She received a Master of Arts in Education from MSU in August 1992 and a Bachelor of Science from MSU in December 1989. Additionally, she received an Associate of Arts Degree from Ashland Community College in May 1988. Cindy enjoys hanging out with friends and family, road trips, concerts, hiking, and kayaking.