Tina Houareau PhD in Instructional Design for Online Learning

Name: Tina Houareau

Hometown: Seychelles Islands

Profession: Instructional Designer at Capella University

Degree in Progess from Capella University: PhD in Instructional Design for Online Learning

Q. Tell us about your background and what brought you to Capella.

A. I’m originally from the Seychelles Islands, where I lived until I was 17. I did my bachelor’s in London and received my master’s at Kansas State University. After that, I moved all over the U.S., teaching English, composition, rhetoric, and writing. Eventually I moved to Minnesota, where I worked in the marketing department for a law firm. A friend told me about an instructional design opportunity at Capella, and it sounded like something that would be perfect for me.

Q. Tell us about your position at Capella. What do you do as an instructional designer?

A. I work with the various schools at Capella to develop courses. This involves working with subject matter experts, faculty chairs, and instructors to look extensively at what the competencies should be, how to assess them, etc.

Depending on the course, I’ll work on developing readings, discussion questions, and assignments, as well as determining what textbooks should be used and if there is related media that can be inserted to make the course more invigorating. There are a lot of conversations that take place as we hash out the content for 10 units.

Q. Why are you also getting a PhD in Instructional Design?

A. I’m really fascinated by the field. Before I started working in instructional design, I had no idea of the depth and innovation it offers. I wanted to learn more about the theories behind it—really immerse myself—so I could contribute more.

Q. How are your PhD studies helping your job?

A. The scholarly approach of the PhD really builds credibility and makes me more confident in my work. It also enhances my collaboration with subject matter experts. For instance, I don’t know the ins and outs of nursing work—but they don’t know what I know about instructional design, so together we can really put together a topnotch program.

Q. What is it like, being a student at and employee of Capella simultaneously?

A. It has been such an eye-opener and very fascinating. I see the courseroom not just from the instructional designer’s perspective, but from the student’s perspective. Being a student gives me additional insight about things like workloads—I know what it’s like to have a day full of work meetings followed by evenings in the courseroom. I try to keep the work and school lives separate, and yet they’re intertwined because my program is completely tied to my work. I can see connections immediately.

Q. You’ve recently written a children’s book, The Runaway Peanut-Butter Jelly Sandwich. Tell us about that.

A. “Fun” is the word for the book. I always knew I would write a book, but I didn’t know if it would be for adults or children. My son, Sebastian, solidified the decision. When he was little, he would only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. One day I was frustrated with this routine and asked him what would happen if we were out of those ingredients. He thought for a moment, then asked, “Where would they go?” And the book was born.

I found that it brings a lot of joy to write for a young audience. It took me one night to write the story, but of course much longer to have someone illustrate it and get it published. The launch in October was wonderful.

Q. How do you juggle your career and being a mother and student? What advice do you have for others in your position?

A. It’s challenging. I would say people need to be consciously mindful of making time for themselves, which I strive to do. If I fall apart, everything falls apart. So I eat well, exercise, and try not to stress out. There are only 24 hours in a day. There is much I have to do, but I also need to make time for my son and for me. I’ve learned to say “no” more, unplug more. I’m much more conscious of what I’m doing in my spare time, since I have so little of it.

Sometimes it means rethinking goals. I wanted to get my second children’s book done by February, but I’m trying to finish my dissertation, too, so I think, “Would it be a problem if the book is finished five months later? Is it healthier for me?” Those are the types of questions PhD students need to think about.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I plan to stay with Capella for a long time. I love my work, I love the work/life balance Capella offers. Once I’m done with the PhD, I want to write for the field and publish scholarly articles based on my dissertation, which is about awareness of leadership competencies in instructional design.

I’d like to present at conferences and seek out more opportunities to lead. I don’t want to just stop with the PhD, but continue to contribute to the field. And definitely finish my second children’s book in 2016.


Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s online PhD programs.