From the start, Terri Masters Cohen hoped that getting an advanced degree would be beneficial to her role as owner-operator of the Children’s Village childcare center in Wolcott, Connecticut.
In the end, a Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Development from Capella University not only strengthened her commitment to her work, it opened up possibilities beyond her career.
She reflects on her career and education and how they work together.
Q. Tell us about your background.
A. I actually started out working in marketing for restaurants, including McDonald’s. I had two sons and had been approved to become a McDonald’s franchisee, but at that time, the company would have had to move me out of state. We were living in Connecticut and really wanted to stay.
I’m the oldest of six kids, and I love kids. When I discovered the owners of my childcare center were going to sell it, I offered to buy it. I was really excited about the opportunity, but 10 days before closing, they decided not to sell. So now I had no job. While driving around, I saw a “For Sale” sign on a former childcare center. I really wanted to do this, and I jumped at the opportunity.
I had an associate’s degree with a focus on marketing, management, and accounting, and I found I liked running my own business. I hired a director, but I really wanted to be a director myself, and I knew I’d need a bachelor’s for that. I enrolled at Charter Oak State College to finish my undergraduate degree in child studies.
Q. Why did you pursue a master’s degree?
A. My undergraduate degree gave me a better understanding of child development and best practices in the field. I felt that I became a better leader and teacher for young children after I got the bachelor’s. But the degree was not enough. Even after running my center for 25 years, I was thirsty for more knowledge, and I also wanted to understand how an adult mind works so I could teach and empower my staff.
And, I thought about what I want to do in retirement. I’ve done some consulting with other centers in Connecticut who are working towards National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation, like my center had. I figured I could continue doing that after I “retire,” and having a master’s would increase my credibility and pay.
A master’s would also give me additional options. I could work at a senior center, step in as an assistant or interim principal, or do intake/placement services or developmental screenings in school systems. Some of these things I could do with the bachelor’s, but I’d be much more likely to get management roles with a master’s.
Q. Why did you choose Capella?
A. My brother-in-law had recently earned his doctorate from Capella, and he shared his positive experience with me as I researched graduate schools. Capella’s mission seemed well suited for working professionals like me who need to learn on the go. It was the right choice.
While taking classes at Capella, I learned a lot from a very diverse population of fellow students and faculty. My professors were always available to answer any questions I had. I truly learned a lot here. And continue to learn—I can still access the Capella Library. Even though I just graduated, I’m already exploring further opportunities in online learning.
I tell people that Capella is the Ivy League of online universities.
Q. Did you find ways to apply your education and the program competencies in your career?
A. I started to implement what I was learning while I was taking classes. I’ve delivered workshops on different topics such as diversity, classroom culture, adolescent and child development, and more. I’ve formed groups to discuss research topics on child development and how to plan learning experiences that would reach each learner.
The life span class taught me about brain development from prenatal through early childhood, which led to my holding educational events for parents to help them understand how they can support their child’s development.
Capella also gave me greater insight into research. My center partners with Yale University for research projects. Now when people come in to research, I’m always fascinated and have a better understanding of what they’re doing and why.
Q. Any advice for other prospective students who are thinking of getting a master’s?
A. Believe in learning. It’s never too late to learn. (I’m 63 years old and still doing it.) When you do share your gained knowledge with people around you, you develop an even better understanding of the topic and become even more expert in the field.
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