Nate McDonald figured that it would be difficult to return to college while maintaining the hectic schedule of teaching and coaching high school football and basketball.
Not only did he continue to teach and coach without missing a beat, he also got married and went on a honeymoon while enrolled in the online Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership program at Northwest Missouri State University.
"I always wanted to go back and get my master's degree, but it was a time commitment I didn't have," he said. "As a teacher, you often get emails about master's degree programs. I leaned toward Northwest because of the flexibility of the fully online format. That was a huge selling point. It was a dream scenario."
McDonald, who teaches and coaches in the Logan-Magnolia Community School District in Logan, Iowa, was also confident that he would receive a quality education for his time and energy before he enrolled.
"One of my principals earned her degree from Northwest Missouri State," he said. "She highly recommended the university. That was especially nice because she earned the same degree on campus. The cost was great, too. It was very affordable."
Not long after McDonald started the program, he got married in May 2018. The flexibility of the online format helped him devote time to the program when it worked best around his commitments.
"The program being 100% online was phenomenal," he said. "I came home from practice sometimes and worked. I did some of my work on the weekends. I spent about 10-12 hours per week on the program.
"It was also nice to have the freedom of doing one class at a time or two classes at a time. I could anticipate if I was going to be busier at different times of the year with the different sports. You never know how long the seasons will last."
McDonald grew up in Underwood, Iowa, where he played high school football and basketball and developed a passion for athletics. He also caught a glimpse of his future career while working at a youth basketball camp.
"One of our coaches came over and said, 'You have the gift of working well with young kids.' That fueled my whole teaching and coaching career."
But McDonald wasn't yet finished with his athletic endeavors. He played football at Morningside College, becoming an All-Conference Student Athlete, while he earned a bachelor's degree in education with reading and coaching endorsements.
After graduating in 2012, he started his professional career at MMC (Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn) High School in Marcus, Iowa, where he coached and taught for three years. He is now in his fourth year at Logan-Magnolia.
"Overall, the master's degree program puts me in position for administration," he said. "I want to become a principal or an athletic director. The degree and my commitment and passion will definitely get me where I need to be."
EDUC 61622: Visionary School Leadership was McDonald's favorite course in the online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program curriculum.
"When people think of leadership, they usually think of the management aspect," he said. "Becoming a visionary and identifying a school's short and long term goals was truly eye-opening for me. The unique part of it was each class offered something different."
McDonald was also blown away by his adviser at Northwest, Dr. David Kiene, and the networking aspect of the online program.
"Dr. Kiene is the best in the business," he said. "I called him not too long ago. He knew me instantly, which was impressive, because he serves so many students each year. He's still helping me become an Iowa administrator after I finished the program. He wants the best for his students, even after they graduate.
"Each course had a practicum, which gives you the related hours you have to fulfill. I talked to our safety coordinator, our business manager and other principals and teachers from other districts. I never would have gained that experience without the program."
McDonald completed the program in August 2019 and became the first person in his immediate family to earn a master's degree. He had a lot of support from his family and friends during his time in the program — especially since he also became a husband.
"Being able to get married and go on a honeymoon was another huge benefit of a 100% online program. The program was accommodating to my schedule, which made it nice."
Although McDonald has plenty of sports in his work life, he is also a big fan of Iowa State football. Now that he has a master's degree on his resume, he is eager to move into an administrative role. But he and his wife, Taylor, are preparing to become parents first.
"Our lives are about to be completely changed," he said, as he and his wife are thrilled to be expecting their first child, a baby boy, in July.
Since graduating, McDonald has recommended the online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program to two teachers who heeded his advice and are now enrolled at Northwest.
"One of them has three daughters," he said. "He wondered if he would be able to make time for it. I told him that the program is phenomenal, the workload is manageable and there's a freedom within it. He's doing one course to start.
"The freedom to do it online is a huge benefit. One of my co-workers had to go [on campus] to a class every weekend. I said, 'Not during college football season.'"
Learn more about Northwest's online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.