Rebecca Sjolander, an elementary school teacher in Minnesota.

Alumni Spotlight: Rebecca Sjolander, M.A.Ed. in Educational Leadership

Rebecca Sjolander graduated from Concordia University St. Paul with an M.A.Ed. in Educational Leadership and currently works as an elementary school teacher. After years teaching third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, Rebecca spearheaded the development of her school’s IGNITE program, a program that teaches students skills for 21st-century learners. We asked Rebecca to tell us about her experience pursuing her master’s degree from Concordia University St. Paul.

Why did you want to work in education? What inspired you?

Education has been my life. Ever since entering kindergarten, I have always been in a classroom: as a student, as a paraprofessional, and eventually, as a teacher. I feel comfortable and alive in a classroom! I knew very early on in my life that I wanted to be an educator.

I have had many people inspire me during my educational journey: my favorite fifth grade teacher, some special coworkers, and my family. They have all played a part in who I have become as a teacher. They have helped develop my passion, creativity, and confidence.

Why did you choose Concordia University St. Paul for your master’s degree in educational leadership?               

When I decided to get my master’s degree, I searched many different options. I chose Concordia University St. Paul for a few reasons. First, CSP’s courses were 100% online. That was really important for me. Secondly, CSP was affordable. There were many payment options that made taking the classes feasible. But most importantly, I had a lot of questions as I embarked on this journey, and the staff at CSP were so kind and timely in answering my questions. I truly felt like they cared and they did not even know me. I knew CSP was the place for me!

What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Concordia University St. Paul and how do you use them today?

I most definitely sharpened my communication and technical writing skills throughout my master’s program! I always considered myself to be a proficient writer, but after two years of taking writing intensive classes and studying the writer’s manual, I now consider myself to be an exemplary technical writer! It has been fun to look back at my writing from the beginning courses to the writing done in my capstone. One can definitely see the improvement. Improving my writing automatically improved my communication skills. I feel more confident and equipped to present information to the staff, the school board, and the community.

These skills are very useful when I grant write, do presentations, and even when I am in the classroom with my students.

How has your master’s degree in educational leadership impacted you in terms of your current position or a position you’d like to attain in the future?

Earning my master’s degree in educational leadership has provided me with invaluable skills and information that I use almost every day in my current position. I feel more confident and qualified to be doing the job that I do. I also feel that should other leadership positions become available, I would be qualified to apply. My master’s degree has also advanced my position on our district’s salary scale.

What was a challenge you faced during your master’s program, and who or what helped you overcome it?

 Last January (half way through my last year in the master’s program), my father passed away. Although it was not a surprise to me, it was still a devastating time in my life. I was not sure how I was going to complete the class that I was in. I reached out to my professor, as well as two of my cohort members that had become good friends. With their support, and that of my family, I was able to complete the class successfully, missing only one class period. I actually found that the homework and comradery from being in a class was therapeutic. It helped to give me purpose during a time when I felt helpless. It also helped to direct my energy into something positive when I found it hard to just get out of bed.

 What was the biggest takeaway from your master’s in educational leadership program?

My biggest takeaway from the experience of gaining my master’s in educational leadership was that I truly am capable. I am a first-generation college graduate. Going to college was not even an option that I considered when I was in high school. It was not until I was working as a paraprofessional and met one particular teacher that saw my skills and encouraged me to pursue my dream that I even thought college was possible. To think that I now have my master’s is almost unbelievable to me! It is something for which I have worked extremely hard and in which I am very proud.

What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the master’s educational leadership program at Concordia University St. Paul?

My advice for anyone considering the master’s educational leadership program at Concordia University St. Paul would be: Believe in yourself. But also…

  • Understand that research, completing projects, and writing papers takes a huge amount of time. Make sure you are up for the challenge and can dedicate enough time and energy to complete quality assignments.
  • Realize that there is a fair amount of group work in the classes. Know that your group members are counting on you to pull your weight. Do not let them down. You may have different ideas, work ethics, or schedules; but you need to be able to commit to doing your part.
  • Don’t wait. There are always excuses: money, time, etc. I doubted my abilities and kept putting my dream of earning a master’s degree on the back burner. I wish I would have done it sooner. If you are hesitating, believe in yourself and go for it!
  • Know that the professors are there to help and guide you. They want you to succeed. Ask for help if needed.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Educating oneself is a wonderful investment!