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How embracing opportunities led Nicole Meier to academic and professional accomplishments

Following your calling while also advancing in your career can be challenging path to navigate. Making the most of your work involves seizing unexpected opportunities to find new ways to evolve your career.

Take Nicole Meier, for example. By embracing challenges, she has thrived at the start of her career in secondary education, solidifying her passion for teaching and fostering a lifelong commitment to learning.

Demonstrating a passion for teaching and literature

Meier’s journey into English education started with an associate degree. Initially uncertain about her career direction, she considered a degree in journalism.

"Before I got my associate's degree in English, I was going to go to Ohio University for its journalism program. Everything happens for a reason, and I didn't end up going,” said Meier.

However, after reflecting on her strengths and enthusiasm for the subject, she decided to pursue a bachelor's degree in Integrated Language Arts at another public university.

"I thought maybe I would teach at the collegiate level, but after getting to know the subject and myself, I learned that teaching seventh through twelfth grade is where my heart landed me," Meier recalls.

Discovering the online master’s program

Meier’s teaching career began in 2020 for a rural school district which coincided with the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, where she taught tenth grade.

The district wanted her to teach College Credit Plus (CCP) in which Ohio 7th through 12th grade students can take college coursework for credit. To teach CCP education courses, educators must hold a master's degree in the specific discipline, as outlined by the Ohio Department of Education.

This was an unexpected opportunity that Meier embraced.

“I'm going to be getting my master’s degree way faster than I thought because I just graduated that spring,” Meier explained her thoughts. “I loved OHIO’s program because it was very flexible. It was geared toward teachers who wanted to do just that, get their CCP certification.”

As a dedicated educator, Meier understood the challenges that working teachers often encounter when striving to further their education. This was the main motivator for her to pursue her master’s degree in English online with OHIO.

“I think the biggest thing and what's so beautiful about the program is how much it can be done online,” said Meier. “That welcomed me into staying in Columbus teaching in Galion which is an hour [away], but also getting a program that didn't feel too far removed.”

Meier also noted she felt it was important for her to support a college that was in state.

A rigorous and supportive academic experience

When Meier began her online studies, she was prepared for a challenge. Despite her prior degrees, the rigor of the program exceeded her expectations.

“I think when I initially started it, I thought, 'Oh, this is going to be similar to what I know.' Boy did it challenge me! It definitely felt like I was a master's student," she shared, appreciating the high standards set by her professors.

For some teachers, pursuing an advanced degree reflects a passion for learning, staying current with educational research, and continuous improvement in their teaching practice.

"To be challenged as an adult is important because it's easy to get stuck in that mentality for whatever grade level you're teaching English."

Meier's experience was characterized by an academic environment that demanded excellence. The pacing was challenging but doable, and she appreciated the level of attention the professors maintained.

"The professors definitely expected excellence, but I appreciated that because if you're going for a master's, you want to feel like you're getting that level of rigor," she noted.

The support Meier received from her instructors was pivotal to her experience.

"I felt supported by every professor," Meier says. "I think about my Shakespeare professor, who was doing a study abroad or fieldwork in England at the time, and she was still accessible even though we were on totally different time zones."

Pursing academic achievements and professional recognition

One of Meier’s significant accomplishments during the program was her publication in the Ohio Journal of English Language Arts (OJELA). This achievement stemmed from a project guided by Director of the Master of Arts in English (MAE) Online Dr. Linda Rice, who consistently encouraged her to produce publishable work.

"It was fun to see the behind-the-scenes process of peer-reviewed publication," Meier recalls, highlighting the excitement and learning involved in this experience.

Meier’s publication explored the thematic connections between fiction and nonfiction texts, specifically pairing Alice Walker’s short story "Everyday Use" with Frederick Douglass's “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Written by Himself." Her innovative approach provided practical insights for teachers, illustrating how literature can bridge historical and cultural narratives.

"The whole time we were working on our final chapter with the topic, Dr. Rice reiterated multiple times that this is something that could be of publishable quality," Meier explains. "I kept that loosely in the back of my mind, but I was more just excited to finish the program and talk about a subject I unknowingly was very passionate about."

Meier 's research focused on the theme of cultural preservation in both Walker's and Douglass's works. She identified a unifying theme of different ways of preserving culture and the struggles associated with it.

"I loved that we were able to see that such an iconic figure like Frederick Douglass and his narrative was able to mirror some of the decisions made by Alice Walker, far later, in her short story 'Everyday Use,'" said Meier.

The impact of this accomplishment was felt within her professional community. When she began to teach for Dublin City Schools, her colleagues celebrated her success, and she presented her research at the Dublin Literacy Conference. This opportunity allowed her to share her findings with a broader audience, furthering her impact on education.

"In my district, I was thankfully honored and celebrated for that, which meant a lot to me because I wasn't expecting any recognition from my colleagues," Meier stated. 

Continuing the journey of lifelong learning

Earning her master’s degree has certainly influenced Meier’s teaching career. 

"The confidence it gave me in answering hard questions and recommending texts was invaluable," she states.

The program enhanced her expertise and the importance of continual professional development.

"Anytime you promote divergent abstract thinking, it's a beautiful thing," Meier emphasized. "To have the space to be presented with complex literature that not only challenges you intellectually in terms of the reading but also the standard that the professor sets in terms of how you're going to think about and discuss the literature was a welcome challenge."

Meier is passionate about encouraging others to pursue similar educational opportunities. Her advice to prospective students of the online Master’s of English program is clear: "Expect to be challenged, but embrace the struggle. The process is as impactful and meaningful as in-person learning."

Meier’s academic journey has ignited a desire for further professional growth.

"I'm so early in my career—just finished my fourth year teaching. My professional goal is to get a Ph.D. to continue to contribute research and that sort of thinking into the field. I never want to leave the classroom, at least at this stage in my career, but I would definitely go through Ohio University to [my Ph.D.].”

Meier’s relationship with her professors, particularly Dr. Rice, continues to be a source of support and inspiration. "I know she would be excited and eager to help me in any future endeavors," Meier notes, appreciating the lasting connections formed during her time with OHIO.

"I think that she is someone that's definitely in my corner. If I ever wanted to pursue anything further, I know she would be excited and eager to help me in that process," Meier says, reflecting on the meaningful relationships she developed during the program.

A journey of transformation

Meier's journey so far embodies the power of the online master's program. From her beginnings as a dedicated teacher in a rural high school, she's become a published scholar and respected educator. Her story highlights OHIO Online's ability to offer rigorous and adaptable coursework that fuels career advancement.

Meier's achievements are an example for those asking themselves, what can you do with a master's degree in English? It proves that with dedication and the program's support, significant opportunities are attainable. As she continues to inspire others, Meier's ongoing journey serves as a powerful reminder of the benefits of continuous learning. 

June 18, 2024
Staff reports