Although retirement is around the corner for Steve Williams, he plans to keep his career alive and kicking long after that milestone arrives.
The 62-year-old intermediate school counselor is enrolled in the online Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) Generalist program at Northwest Missouri State University. He is on track to complete the program in the fall of 2021.
“I am a lifelong learner,” said Williams, who is a licensed professional counselor (LPC). He expects the Ed.S. degree will widen his sphere of opportunities when he retires in a few years.
“It would also give me a chance to teach in a university setting and put me higher on the payroll with the school district before my retirement,” he said.
That’s a win-win for Williams, who is in his 14th year at Festus R-VI School District in Festus, Missouri. Make that a triple win.
“The real blessing is how much I am able to learn and collaborate with other students,” he said. He appreciates the lift he expects from the degree as he approaches the next phase of his career.
“It’s something I needed, but I didn’t realize it until I started taking classes. I got new, fresh ideas I learned from other students in the program. I really enjoyed that.”
The flexibility of the online format is helping Williams earn a degree around his schedule. He and his wife, Jean, have three adult children and five grandchildren.
“That’s the beauty of it — I was able to work on the coursework on nights I had availability,” he said. “With the convenience of online courses, I didn’t have to have it done that night, or spend four hours going to classes. I could spend the time that fit my schedule, and I had all week to work on my assignments and papers. I love it.”
Williams is from northwest Iowa, but he has lived in the “Show-Me state” of Missouri for half of his life. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Webster University and working in the business world for more than 20 years, he started his work life anew.
“I told my wife years ago that if I switched careers, I would become a school counselor,” he said. “School counselors are important in their role in the education system. Not only do they work on schedules and make sure kids are able to graduate, but they work on social and emotional elements of students’ lives.”
The move paid off for Williams, who added a master’s degree in counselor education from Missouri Baptist University in 2012.
“Kids have a lot of social and emotional issues, so it is important for them to be with a counselor,” he said. “I lost my father when I was 2 years old, so I needed a little bit of help when it came to school.
“I know the value of school counseling, which is why I got into it. I love it. There are a lot of challenges with social media nowadays. It’s difficult for kids to process the information coming at them. Hopefully, I can help them to dissect it a little bit.”
The affordable tuition drew Williams to the online Ed.S. Generalist program at Northwest, where he has thrived.
“It is a very good value,” he said. “Other ed specialist programs I looked into were twice the price and wouldn’t have been worth my while.
“Even though it’s online, the instructors truly care and communicate well. I don’t have to wait more than 24 hours for a response. They engage with my questions and ideas — it’s a great collaboration.”
Even with a wealth of experience in the education field, Williams has learned plenty as an online student. So far, EDUC 61606: Culture and Student Engagement is his favorite course in the program.
“We learned about diverse communities and different ethnicities and cultures,” he said. “That was enlightening.”
Williams also gained valuable insight in CSIS 44610: Integrating the Technology Curriculum and EDUC 61713: School Personnel.
“I am pretty good with using technology in the classroom, but the technology course stretched my capabilities,” he said. “I learned a lot that I will use in the classroom this year, for sure.
“The leadership course helped me understand decisions school administrators have to make and how they are looking at the big picture instead of just the building picture. They have to look at decisions for the whole district. It made me understand leadership skills and decision-making.”
With the support of his family, friends and colleagues, Williams is proud to add another degree to his arsenal and some extra decoration to his wardrobe once a year.
“I definitely plan on buying the Ed. Specialist collar,” he said, excited at the prospect of participating in full regalia when his school district holds graduation events.
Williams believes easing into the online Ed.S. Generalist program by taking one course the first term is good advice for potential students.
“I am a little older, so time was of the essence,” he said. “I took two classes each term. You might start with one class and get your feet wet, then hit it harder when you figure out how the system works and how to juggle your time.”
The proof is in the pudding. Williams is now a de facto recruiter for Northwest’s online Ed.S. Generalist program.
“I am very happy,” he said. “The Ed. Specialist degree will open opportunities I wouldn’t have had before. Because I have been bragging about the program so much, five of my colleagues signed up. They’re enjoying the program, too.”
Bring it on, retirement.
Learn more about Northwest’s online Ed.S. Generalist program.