Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pieces of Paper

I stand before you the owner of a crisp, new piece of paper.  I officially completed a master's degree last month in natural resources, specifically in the field of environmental education.

Who knew it would be so anticlimactic?

I've always been a huge proponent of education, which likely stems from my familial influence.  Although neither of my parents finished college, it was drilled into my head early on that education was the way to success.  Lucky for me, I breezed through public education and, when it came time for college, it wasn't even a question of IF I was going to college, but rather WHERE I would go.  As it turned out, I only applied to one college, was accepted the fall of my senior year, and headed to UW-Madison on a full ride the following summer. 

I did well in college, but when it came to the end of my sophomore year when most students begin choosing their career paths, I had trouble figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.  It now seems unfair to expect kids at that age to pick out a major that will likely influence a large portion of their working lives.  At the time, my main interests were in the areas of biology, environmental science, and athletics, so in the end I applied to the School of Education where I received my teaching degree.  I taught high school biology and coached basketball and softball for the next eight years.

As a fresh-faced public educator, I wasn't looking to get rich--anyone who says public educators are in it for the money obviously does not know many teachers--but I realized the fastest way to increase my salary was to earn an advanced degree, hence the start of the master's program.  I chose a program in environmental education because I knew it would help improve my classroom curriculum, and being the Granola that I am, I was already interested and well versed in the area.  So through online courses, weeks of summer classes, and roughly $10,000 in tuition expenses, I finally came to the final stages of the program.  That's when I quit my job.

To make a long story short, I left teaching at the end of the 2009-2010 school year in order to help my husband run our small business.  Neither of us regret that decision, but it left me three credits short of completing the now obsolete degree.  There was no question in my mind that I would complete the degree--I had invested too much time and money to fumble at the 1-yard line--so I completed my last course this past summer and pounded out the dreaded THESIS.

It was daunting at the time, but I finally completed my research project last fall, and it can be found in the UW-Stevens Point library system from here to eternity.  It's entitled,

An Evaluation of the Extent to which the Infusion of the Wisconsin Grade 12 Environmental Education Standards into an Elective Biology Course Impacts the Environmental Attitudes of High School Students.

With a title like that, how could anyone pass it up?

So here I sit, staring at this piece of paper that tells me I have an important new degree---a degree that I will likely never use.  If I were still teaching, the skills and knowledge I gained through this degree would definitely be utilized, but as that's not the case anymore, I wonder if this diploma now represents a huge waste of time and money.  I obviously could not have foreseen this outcome when I first began the process, but hindsight is twenty-twenty, isn't it?  With the way my state has started treating public educators, it doesn't look like my teaching salary would have been improved through this degree anyway.  So I'm happy to have completed this master's program, but as stated earlier, it's very anticlimactic.

So for now, this diploma will get tucked away for safe keeping.  Perhaps it will become useful down the road, but just as likely it will not.  On the bright side, I just realized that I was only the second in my family to complete an undergraduate college degree and the first to receive a graduate degree.  I guess that's something to be proud of, and, like my dad said, no one can ever take this new degree away from me........

though I would consider selling it for $10,000.



  1. Good on you! Congrats!!! Like you, I was the first in my family to get a graduate degree...but now ponder its worthiness. I'm not "using it" per se...but it has helped me process a lot. Ironically, not at all related to the degree. It was worth it, in the end. But I agree...I'd totally sell it for $10,000. ;-)

    Again, congratulations...whatever happens to that piece of paper, it's a huge accomplishment, and you should be proud!

    1. Thanks for the congrats. Even though it may never be directly utilized, I recognize that the process of completing the degree brought intangible assets to my life. I'm sure I'm a little wiser for it, too:)