Making an impact on young lives through athletics keeps Ryan Sweeney constantly motivated.
"I played just about every sport growing up," he said. "I had some very good teachers and coaches in my life. I was sort of drawn to that line of thinking. I got into teaching and coaching right after my undergrad."
Sweeney is still going strong in his second year as activities director at Bondurant-Farrar High School in Bondurant, Iowa. He completed the online Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership program at Northwest Missouri State University in August 2019.
"When I started in education 21 years ago, I never thought I would have been an activities director," he said. "There are always opportunities out there. I want to grow and learn, which might take me in a different direction. But I like what I am doing now."
Once Sweeney got some teaching experience under his belt, he returned to college and graduated with a master's degree in educational administration from Upper Iowa University in 2013.
He initially wanted to transition into teaching and coaching at a community college, but he instead became activities director at Clarke High School for three years and at Spencer Community Schools for two years before moving on to his current role.
"My administrators recommended getting my administrative degree in conversations I had with them," Sweeney said. "Around that time, I became activities director. Then, I changed jobs and they wanted me to have a leadership degree."
He enrolled in Northwest's online program in 2018. The flexibility of the online format was important because of his busy schedule. He and his wife, Belinda, have three children — Dylan (25), Dalton (23) and Maddie (13).
"The online program is very manageable," he said. "I looked into several different programs inside and outside of Iowa, both traditional and blended. This one made the most sense. Between the flexibility and the cost value, it became a fairly easy decision"
Sweeney grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, and played football at Upper Iowa University. A three-year letter winner, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in health and physical education in 1999. He spent the majority of his career at Clarke Community Schools.
"My mother has a master's degree," he said. "My brother got his master's degree, too. We are all involved in education in some form. It's pretty important."
Although the educational leadership degree was his second master's, he learned a lot more valuable information in the program.
"There were several different forms of leadership courses that were all meaningful," he said. "Then, there were aspects of every course that had great impact on thought processes related to relationship building, legal matters and financial matters. It hit a lot of different areas and had a lot of applicability."
The faculty and design of the online program were two reasons Sweeney felt connected to his classmates and to the university.
"The Northwest program was more advanced and still had a lot of merit even without the face-to-face interaction," he said. "I worked with Dr. David Kiene most of the time. He gave me his cell phone number, and I called him a few times with questions. There was never an issue with lack of response or connection to the professors."
Sweeney also found the networking he did through his coursework an extremely valuable part of the program.
"Not everyone is comfortable with an online setting, but this one is productive and interactive," he said. "It ties directly back into your internship practicum hours. That's where you get a lot of your value with the conversations with the people you are going to be following who will mentor you. The connections are pretty great."
Although Sweeney was not able to participate in the commencement ceremony, he is proud that he accomplished earning a second master's degree with so much going on in his life.
"My family was very supportive, but they were concerned and wanted to see if I could manage the time," he said. "With the way the online program worked, I did a lot of it while they were sleeping. That made it very manageable.
"They are all pretty proud of me getting it done. All of the kids, even though the boys are a little older, recognized that going back to school and being educated is very important."
Sweeney believes the key to success in the online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program is having a firm grasp of the material and the time requirement needed to complete it.
"Check everything out and make sure it makes sense to you," he said. "Also, make sure you're comfortable with the online format and you know what you need to do to match up with your state certification."
Speaking of, Sweeney is in the process of completing his administrator's certification in Iowa, which he expects to complete this year.
Until then, he plans to keep making an impact on the lives of the student-athletes at his school and enjoy spending time outside and with his family and doing home improvement projects. When another possible career move comes along, he will be ready as a graduate of the educational leadership program.
"The value — especially for the cost — is second to none," he said. "I had very good experiences and met some people I still connect with in the program. It was very worthwhile. Without a doubt, this degree will help open up some doors for me.
"There are a lot of opportunities once you have your full administrator's degree. There are Northwest Missouri State Bearcats everywhere."Learn more about Northwest's online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program.
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