April 20, 2020 | Katherine Adams
Getting a master’s degree is challenging enough, but for students who are single parents, it requires professors who are willing to offer an extra level of support and flexibility. Jennifer Lopez was able to find an abundance of both at University of Houston-Clear Lake, where she’ll be graduating from the College of Education with her Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology with Human Resources Management specialization this May.
“I got my bachelor’s degree in mathematical science from UH-Clear Lake in December 2016, and went through the teacher certification program and did everything but the full-time teaching internship,” said Lopez, who has three children. “I decided it wasn’t the career path for me, although I worked as a tutor in some school districts. I spoke with (Professor of Instructional Design and Technology) Jana Willis who told me to take the state math exam to complete the certification process. She has guided me the whole way through my education.”
Lopez said she began her master’s program in January 2019 and was able to complete her courses in a year. “I was going to do my internship at DRDA Accounting in Clear Lake, which takes a lot of interns from UHCL,” she said. “When I went to interview for that position, I was offered a full-time position as the human resource and learning development coordinator, a postion that will use a system similar to Blackboard at UHCL. Also, they’ve never had a Human Resources department, so I became their first HR person. I took the job because it’s exactly what I’m studying.”
Lopez added that her next plan was to begin her doctorate in the Curriculum and Instruction program at UHCL.
“I keep coming back to UHCL,” she said. “I think the most important thing I learned is how to take a curriculum outside of my classroom and into a board room or training room. Just because it’s education doesn’t mean it has to be in a K-12 classroom. It can be corporate or anywhere. What I learned in my undergraduate classes at UHCL is to be a better instructor across the board, whether it’s a child or an accountant.”
She added that it was difficult to return to college with children, but she’d felt nothing but support. “The only reason I could complete my undergraduate degree was because of Dr. Willis,” she said. “I was in one of her classes and was working after class. She inquired about my major, and I told her I was a mathematics major. She told me she’d just signed off on a grant for math majors and I should apply. She wasn’t aware that at that time I was one semester away from running out of financial aid.”
Lopez said she had good grades, but she would never have known about that grant if Willis had not taken the time to talk to her. “It was her foresight that got me in my master’s program,” she said. “I was a computer engineering major at first, and I’m not scared of technology and I can read and write programs. Dr. Willis told me I should have a specialization, and I wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t said so. She also told me I should specialize in HR. I just trust her, because her goal is to get people educated.”
“I recall Jennifer telling me her goal was to graduate before her daughter,” Willis said. “Her skill sets were amazing, she had worked very hard to get to where she was in her educational journey. Her journey took her from NASA aerospace scholar, to computer engineering, to mathematics major, to a master’s degree in instructional technology, and now to a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. It’s all adding to the brilliance I saw in that undergraduate classroom. Jennifer is a role model for all UHCL students.”
“My mom graduated high school but had no college, and my dad didn’t graduate from high school,” Lopez said. “Sometimes you need someone to help guide you. Dr. Willis was that for me. She invested in me, whether I was her advisee or her student or not. When you have someone who has such care and concern for you, you can’t ask for more than that.”
After she receives her doctorate, Lopez said she’d like to teach. “Whether I’m a professor or work in a corporate setting, I would like to teach, but my goal is to do it remotely,” she said. “It’s very possible to teach remotely in this day and age, and I really want to travel.”
She said she’d become a mother at 16 and had been very responsible. “I lived in one spot so my children could have their friends and their school, and I committed everything to making sure they had what they needed,” she said. “I’ve done everything for everyone else, and now I want to do what’s right for me, and that’s to go and see things.”
For other single parents struggling to finish their education, Lopez said it’s easy to become overwhelmed. “People say, ‘I don’t know how you do it!’ But time will pass, regardless. Whether you’re moving or not, time is moving. What you decide to do is on you, and if you want it badly enough, you will do it,” she said. “Keep pushing through. It won’t happen if you only think about it. It will happen if you get up and do something about it.”
Learn more about UHCL’s Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology online.