Courtney Bergman photo

Courtney Bergman PhD in Curriculum and Instruction graduate

When her husband suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident a few years ago, Courtney Bergman realized the future of her family was completely on her shoulders.

What’s more, supporting two adults and three children on her meager salary as an elementary-school teacher would be very challenging.

Hoping to boost her marketability for more skilled, higher-paying jobs, Bergman decided to pursue a master’s degree in curriculum development and instruction. And because she lived in a small town in northeast Utah, online learning seemed like the best option. What’s more, with her work and family circumstances, she needed flexibility. “When you’re essentially a single mom taking care of three girls and a disabled adult, sometimes you have to be able to go to school at two in the morning,” she says.

But midway through obtaining her master’s degree at another institution, Bergman wondered if it would be enough to set her apart in the field of education. “Lots of people had master’s degrees,” she says. “PhDs were rarer, and I liked the idea of having that kind of accomplishment on my resume.”

An Appetite for Research

The school where Bergman got her master’s didn’t offer PhDs in her area of specialty, so she switched to the PhD in Curriculum and Instruction program at Capella University. It wasn’t easy juggling studies with everything else, but in some ways, learning was a good distraction from everyday challenges. “I found I felt so much better about myself when I was learning something,” Bergman says.

She also found she loved research. “I’m not great with numbers, but I liked the idea of looking at a problem and coming up with a statistics-supported solution,” she says. The things she learned as part of her courses and research were directly applicable to her daily work as a teacher. “Right from the beginning, I could use this skill or that skill to deal with a situation with an administrator or a challenge in the classroom,” she says. “I gained real-life skills that I could use right now.”

Motivation and Support

Bergman, who completed her dissertation last fall and received her degree in the spring, admits there were times when she wanted to quit. But professors like Deborah Gilbert, EdD, were there along the way to help her with questions and challenges. “Dr. Gilbert understood when it was frustrating and just let me blow off steam once in a while,” Bergman says.

She also tapped Capella’s Writing Center to assist her, and the librarians who oversee Capella’s research resources were also very helpful. “Bless their hearts,” she says, “they helped me a ton. Capella really does have some amazing online resources.”

In the end, though, it was Bergman’s own motivation that got her through the PhD process—along with an occasional boost from her family. “I’m not a quitter. Once I get started with something, I see it through,” she says. “But at one point, when I was thinking of dropping out of the program, my 17-year-old daughter said to me, ‘Mom, we’ve seen you through too much for you to quit right now,’” Bergman says. “I don’t think she knows how much that meant, but it really motivated me to finish.”

Learn more about Capella’s doctoral degrees in education.