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UMass Lowell Degrees Turn Teachers into Leaders

Boston Magazine photo of UMass Lowell teachers

07/01/2016
Boston Magazine

Jessica Huizenga was once a homeless teenager.

“I was lost but someone believed in me,” she says. “I found my calling in education. I am passionate about helping all students realize their full potential. If I can do it, they can too.”

The teacher-turned-administrator is leading the turnaround at Southbridge Public Schools, which are under state receivership. She’s diving in to get the district back on track, using the skills she learned in the UMass Lowell Graduate School of Education.

She earned her doctorate in leadership in schooling and her master’s in educational administration. The programs prepared her, she says, for the challenges she faced as principal and superintendent and now as the appointed receiver of the Southbridge public schools.

“Some kids are dealing with poverty, disabilities, language barriers and more,” says Huizenga. “The critical thinking skills I learned at UMass Lowell have helped me lead schools and establish educational programs that support each and every student’s continuous development.”

Advanced degree programs in education give teachers and school district leaders insight into how to apply new research and techniques to help students — and schools — succeed.

“Teaching has become more complex,” says Dean Anita Greenwood of UMass Lowell’s Graduate School of Education. “Just think of all the added challenges with English learners and increased pressure on STEM education—just for starters. At UMass Lowell, our faculty members use their research findings on those topics and others to give administrators and teachers the skills they need to improve student outcomes.”

Teaching the Teacher

Andy Pearson caught the teaching bug as an intern at Lowell National Historical Park while studying history as an undergraduate at UMass Lowell.

“I didn’t like history in high school because it was pretty boring,” says Pearson. “Once I took a college history course that engaged me, I realized two things: I loved history and I wanted to become a teacher.”

He became a substitute teacher and enrolled in the UMass Lowell master’s program in secondary education.

Pearson says the techniques that faculty used in the classroom are a model that he hopes to apply in his own classrooms.

“One faculty member had our class review a box of items such as newspaper clips and photos and we became detectives, uncovering someone’s history,” says Pearson. “As it turns out, it was the professor’s father’s items from World War II.”

Lessons for the Real World

Matthew Olson earned a doctorate in leadership in schooling at UMass Lowell to position himself for a future leadership role at Middlesex Community College. What he didn’t anticipate, however, was how much his coursework would inform his current work overseeing the college’s instructional technology and online education options.

“Throughout the UMass Lowell Ed.D. program, I was able to apply the course content to my real work challenges, which made my learning stronger,” says Olson, dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Middlesex.

One highlight was the qualitative research classes, which brought a new perspective on using data to drive decision making.

“Assessment is a big part of my job now, not just to improve our programs, but also to demonstrate how well our students are achieving our institutional outcomes,” he says. “This is particularly important given the rising cost of higher education. We need to demonstrate what our graduates know and can do as a result of their time with us. Knowing how to collect, analyze and interpret student work has given me a real advantage leading the assessment efforts in my academic division.”