Mark Derdzinski found his true calling as a community college professor. When his role expanded into a new direction, he answered the bell.
"I was being asked to do an assessment of student learning and other things that my previous degrees hadn't prepared me for," he said. "It had been a long time since graduating, and institutional needs had changed. The duties of a faculty member had expanded since I entered the profession."
So, Derdzinski enrolled in the online Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction program at Northwest Missouri State University and completed it in March 2021.
"I had been talking to my dean about curriculum and instruction because it seemed so hands-on and relevant to what I was doing, both in the classroom and with committee work and assessment," he said. "He encouraged me to go this route, and I am really glad that I did."
Derdzinski teaches English composition at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois.
"The MSEd. program curriculum was almost like a manual for how to do my job," he said. "There are very few programs for curriculum and instruction that focus on the post-secondary instructor — everything is geared toward K-12.
"Northwest professors Dr. Timothy Wall and Dr. Sue Wood assured me that I could make the program work and it would be relevant for the community college context. Every faculty member supported that. All of the projects I did were related to the community college classroom or the community college as an institution."
The flexibility of earning a master's degree online helped Derdzinski not miss a beat at his own institution of higher learning.
"The online format was excellent and convenient," he said. "I could work around it with my schedule. Plus, Northwest is an accredited institution that is extremely affordable, which is great."
Derdzinski grew up in the Chicago area and had designs on becoming a research professor after he graduated from high school. When he was in grad school, a friend's recommendation led to his appointment as a composition instructor at a technical college.
"I got in the classroom for the first time and thought, 'This is fun.' It was that simple," said Derdzinski. "It was a lot of fun working with the students — more so than being a research professor. I was hooked."
Two years after graduating with a bachelor's degree in English from Saint Xavier University in 1992, Derdzinski earned a master's degree in the same major from Purdue University. He has taught at Moraine Valley Community College for 15 years.
"We meet a need and a niche in the community," he said. "I love teaching the students. I tell them that it's not how you start; it's how you finish."
Trends and Issues in Curriculum and Instruction was Derdzinski's favorite course in Northwest's online master's degree program.
"With that course, I felt invited to explore an emerging trend in my area and do some work in a practical way, not just a hypothetical or academic exercise," he said. "My area in the community college has to do with the open pathways approach to education, so I explored how to implement that into my institution. It was practical. In a lot of ways, I learned the most from that."
However, that wasn't the only course in the online MSEd. in Curriculum and Instruction program that Derdzinski found relevant to his job.
"It's a very practical, eclectic curriculum," he said. "It's immediately applicable to what you do. There is some theory, but there is a lot of practice involved, as well.
"You are expected to apply and integrate what you learn in the courses in your job. In some ways, you have a real laboratory to work with in some of the classes."
Knowledge Is King
The master's degree program at Northwest also helped Derdzinski adjust to teaching online courses when COVID-19 shut down in-person learning in 2020.
"For over 20 years, I have been used to walking into a room and starting a conversation with students," he said. "We have been almost exclusively online the last two semesters. I look forward to being face to face with the students in the fall."
Derdzinski has no plans to leave teaching any time soon, but he believes having an MSEd. in Curriculum and Instruction will provide ample opportunities for career growth.
"I am going to keep on with the faculty, but it opens the avenue to administration or expanding what we do at our school," he said. "I am the coordinator for assessment for my department. I have looked at jobs in other areas. I could be the dean at a smaller school with a C&I degree, so who knows?"
Derdzinski, who enjoys fly fishing in his free time, is happy his career change motivated him to earn a second master's degree and enhance his knowledge. He appreciates being able to apply what he is learning in the online program to his job as an educator.
"That's a very positive part of the degree," he said. "We all need to improve our skill sets and adapt."
Learn more about Northwest's online MSEd. in Curriculum and Instruction program.
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