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Education offers new minor, retooled major

Niklas Martin

Three ladies look at children's books.

Wingate University senior Anna Youssef, center, reviews literacy materials to be used for the Motheread program at the Literacy Council of Union County. With her is the program’s coordinator, Jeni Llerena, left, and Laura Erazo, program assistant.

Once upon a time, education majors were nearly all destined for the classroom. The question was simply which grade level. That’s not the case anymore. The majority of Wingate education majors are still on the traditional licensure path, but others want what education courses offer but never intend to write a lesson plan or create a progress report.

That’s why the University is offering a new education minor and is retooling its educational studies major.

“The educational landscape has changed so much. There are so many fields where people can work in education but in nonlicensure posts,” says Dr. Rebekah Kelleher. An associate professor in the Thayer School of Education, Kelleher teaches courses in foundations, curriculum and pedagogy.

Dr. Annette Digby, the school’s dean, said the minor in educational studies will benefit a variety of students. She sees it as an appealing option for psychology and human services majors who intend to work in schools. Students who need a degree in their primary content area but want to consider teaching will also find it helpful.

“We have a lot of students looking toward graduate school,” Digby said. “To be competitive in some grad schools, they need that content degree. This minor is an added benefit to them.”

Approved by the faculty last month, the 18-credit-hour minor includes classes in foundations of education and educational psychology. Students will learn about differentiated instruction and will complete an internship. They will also take a course in child/adolescent psychology.

Digby and Kelleher say students interested in education, including many who start along the path toward teaching but then change majors, often take all the courses required for a minor but haven’t been able to label it as such on their transcripts.

“Now it is packaged as a minor for their benefit,” Digby says. “The minor doesn’t have a grade-level emphasis, because we want it to offer effective teaching skills for children all the way to adult learners.”

Changes to the major

Similarly, the retooling of Wingate’s 2-year-old educational studies major has eliminated its prior K-6 limitation. Instead, the major now offers three concentrations from which students must choose: humanities, language and literacy, or math and science.

The major requires a minimum of 125 semester hours. It includes 51 to 54 core curriculum credits, 24 in the professional core, and 47 to 50 in specialty studies.

Kelleher says the degree was first developed as a soft landing for students thwarted from the licensure path. Now, she says it is increasingly becoming a major of choice.

Many charter schools and private schools don’t require all teachers to be licensed. Nor is the traditional path a prerequisite for careers involving educational publications or many other support industries.

“This is a great fit for those wanting to serve educational institutions from the business end,” Kelleher says.

Students with this nonlicensure degree can obtain licensure later via a master of arts in teaching or an alternative process. They can work with students in settings not requiring teacher licensure or pursue graduate work in a nonteaching field.

“I feel like my options are wide open with educational studies,” says Anna Youssef of Winston-Salem. Rather than spending her final semester student teaching, she’s working two internships and taking additional Spanish classes.

“Ultimately I would love to work with kids in a Spanish-speaking setting,” Youssef says. While interning with the Literacy Council of Union County, she works with the local Latino community via the Motheread program. She’s also putting into practice assessment tools learned in Melanie Keel’s Education 411 class.

“We want to find out where the kids in the program are on their reading readiness and social skills,” Youssef explains. “Our goal is then to collect data, so that at the end of the seven-week program, the team can look back and see if the kids are progressing and getting the help they need before they start school.”

Suzanne Hearn, executive director of the Literacy Council, is a fan of the educational studies major. Youssef is the second Wingate student who has interned there, helping to plan lessons and perform research to inform programming.

“I think this is an important major in the field of education,” Hearn says. “There are a lot of fantastic benefits to on-the-ground research.”

Digby says another beauty of the major is that it begins with the same core courses as the licensure path. As a result, students who have met course requirements can transition to licensure two years into their studies. Those in licensure programs (elementary, middle grades, secondary, or K-12 education) may change to educational studies at any time.

“Some students need that two years to decide which path is right for them,” Digby says.

Kelleher says that with either path, she’s confident that Wingate education graduates will continue to find successful careers.

“Our education grads are in high demand,” she says. “The people that hire them understand they will get a well-prepared student with a good knowledge base.”