Christina Strellec graduated from Point Park University with an M.A. in Special Education and currently works as a special education teacher and Induction & Mentor Program coordinator for a middle school in Pennsylvania. With an impressive four degrees, three of which are graduate degrees, and plenty of classroom experience, we asked her to share with us her journey at Point Park University pursing her master’s degree.
Why did you want to work in education? What inspired you?
My grandparents inspired my love of learning. My grandmother grew up on a farm and started her education in a one-room schoolhouse. People joke about having to walk to school uphill in the snow when they were young. Well, to get to high school, this is literally what my grandmother had to do! She lived at the bottom of a valley and walked approximately one mile uphill to catch the school bus. All that walking paid off! She finished high school, left her small town, and enrolled in nursing school.
My grandfather’s parents were first generation immigrants and worked in a glass factory. His father died when he was young, and he worked to support his family. He knew he wanted to finish high school, which he managed to do while working. After serving in World War II, he went to college for accounting.
My grandparent’s love of learning and perseverance inspired me. I saw how education opened doors for them. I knew I wanted a career where I could share my love of learning with others and help them open their own doors.
Why did you choose Point Park University for your special education degree?
I started my teaching career as a history teacher. I gravitated toward helping students with special needs. Gradually, I realized I wanted to shift gears and work with children with special needs full-time. I ignored the calling for a few years because the hurdles seemed too high. I was over a decade into my career, working full-time, and had a family. I also didn’t want to add a financial burden to my family by incurring the cost of an expensive degree.
One day, I casually sat at my computer and thought, what if I just look at some programs to see what is out there? I came upon Point Park University’s Master of Arts in Special Education. It was everything that I needed a program to be. Eight-week courses meant I could focus on one course at a time, and online learning provided a flexible schedule. The cohort format warded off feelings of isolation and created a community. Point Park also offered affordability. Most importantly, the program was comprehensive, and with a strong reputation for academic excellence, I knew that I could trust Point Park to deliver.
What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Point Park University and how do you use them today?
I entered the program with a vague understanding of special education from what I had picked up as a general education teacher. I left the program feeling confident in my knowledge of low and high incidence disabilities, IEP writing, special education law, differentiating curriculum, behavior intervention, and transition services. Because of what I learned at Point Park, I was able to hit the ground running when I became a special education teacher. Now, I use what I learned every day!
How has your special education degree impacted you in terms of your current position or a position you’d like to attain in the future?
I had just finished the master’s program before I was hired to teach at my current school. I taught a combined social studies/ELA course in a program designed for students who had been retained and were at risk for aging out of school before graduation. The program’s goal was to reengage students in school and provide them with the skills they needed to successfully graduate. While this wasn’t a special education position, I used the skills and knowledge I gained from Point Park daily, especially curriculum development, differentiation, and behavior intervention.
When a middle school special education position opened up at my school, I applied. I’m delighted to report that I’m now in my third year of being a special education teacher!
What was a challenge you faced during your special education program, and who or what helped you overcome it?
I think one common misconception about online programs is that they are easier. After completing a traditional master’s program and an online program, I can personally vouch that graduate-level coursework is demanding no matter how you’re completing it!
What I loved about Point Park was how accessible the professors were. They provided rich, valuable feedback on assignments. Professors were always available when I had questions or needed help with my work. In fact, they’re still helping! Dr. Gutkind answered questions I had about certification a couple of years after I graduated!
What was the biggest takeaway from your special education program?
The knowledge and experiences that I gained have been instrumental to my career trajectory. Every day, I use what I learned at Point Park. I also left the program feeling empowered. I’d be lying if I said I managed to juggle life, work, and school without dropping an occasional ball. Supportive professors and worthwhile coursework motivated me to pick that ball back up and keep going. When the journey came to a close, l looked back on it and thought, wow, I did this! What can I do next?
What would you tell (or what advice would you give) to prospective students considering the M.A. Special Education program at Point Park University?
When I was considering the program, I looked into what alumni said about it and Point Park in general. Doing so gave me an idea of what it was like to experience the program firsthand. What I wish I had done, and I recommend that you do, is reach out to Point Park if you have questions. You’ll get honest answers and a sense of how supportive the faculty and staff are.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
While virtual education may feel like uncharted waters, colleges and universities like Point Park have had robust online programs for years. Taking online courses myself helped me better understand how online learning platforms work and how to design user-friendly content.