UVU Column: UVU’s Master of Education degree helps the communities

November 24, 2018

Time flies when you’re having success.

It’s been 10 years since the Master of Education degree was instituted at Utah Valley University. The program has grown from its initial 14 students to become what some call the premier teacher preparation program in the state of Utah.

That’s according to Mary Sowder, UVU’s director of graduate studies for the School of Education. It was UVU’s first master’s program, and part of what made the institution a university instead of an undergraduate college.

Approximately 250 individuals have gone through the program since it began.

“The program provided an avenue for those in the education profession to further their education, specifically centered on teaching and learning,” Sowder said. “UVU’s program differs from others in the area as it is really practitioner-based, not research-based.”

It is also varied and flexible.

“Our program provides different avenues for different people,” she said. “They can work to become more informed, effective teachers — they may become principals or administrators. We have a new emphasis that was just approved and will start in the summer. It is for people who want to go into administration at the higher education level.”

The department works closely with local school districts to determine the needs of the community.

“We try to be responsive to the needs of our local education authorities,” Sowder said. “We see what local districts have a need for, and adjust our program accordingly. It could be they need teachers for students who do not speak English as their first language, or teachers who are trained in terms of technology.”

The program has gained community respect, in part because of that responsiveness and its practical approach.

Not only is the program growing in numbers, it has also increased its accessibility. Instead of having students travel to campus for their education, UVU takes the classes to them, in their local school districts. It saves the students both time and money.

“It gives teachers the opportunity to take six or seven classes through UVU that lead to an endorsement to their teaching,” said John Allan, coordinator of graduate and endorsement programs in the Master of Education program at UVU. The endorsements may be for particular skills, but they are also the start of an advanced degree.

“Basically, they are one-third of the way to their Master of Education degree,” Allan said. “It is the initial stepping stone and a jump start.”

“It is an amazing professional development program and is very inexpensive,” he said. “It opens it up to a lot of people who normally wouldn’t be able to otherwise. It allows more to pursue a master’s degree.”

With more teachers better educated, their students may have more success.

“Ultimately, our goal is to help kids,” Allan said. “We are sending out teachers who are better prepared to touch the lives of children. UVU is providing an amazing service.”

The future looks bright, both for the students and the program.

“We have growth in students, and also growth in opportunity,” Sowder said. “We keep adding these emphases. We have things on our list of things we want to do. For example, some people want us to start a school counseling program. Others want a speech and language pathology program. Some want a K-12 arts endorsement program. The word is out. We are willing to work with different content areas to design what they need. We have a lot of people asking us to do so. It provides opportunities for growth and service. We really try to be responsive to the needs of the community.”

Just as important is the emphasis on each student.

“We make sure we respond to the needs of individual students,” she said. “We try to model the kind of behavior that we want our students to model in their own classrooms.”

Archer Birrell was one of the early students in the program. Now a teacher in Granite School District, he has received several honors for his teaching. He said his teaching style is to get students involved in an engaged learning experience. He gives credit to UVU for that model, saying it’s the way he learned.

More information is available at https://www.uvu.edu/med, by emailing graduatestudieseduc@uvu.edu, or emailing Sowder at mary.sowder@uvu.edu.

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