El Dorado, AR
M.Ed. in Educational Technology
“This was the degree I wanted so there really was no other option for me. I just wouldn’t have been able to get my master’s. The flexibility was key to being able to be successful so I really appreciated that.”
Home is where the heart is. Cindy Miller's heart is in El Dorado, Arkansas.
She was born in the Union County town in south Arkansas, which is about 20 minutes from the Louisiana border, and she has lived in El Dorado her entire life. After high school, she drove about 30 minutes west on U.S. 82 to earn a teaching degree at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
Then, West Side Christian School in El Dorado hired her, and she has spent all but two years of her 24-year teaching career there. Her daughter, Hannah, attended West Side Christian from preschool to high school graduation. Her husband, Randall, is West Side's vice principal and athletic director.
In the third week of June, the U of A Razorbug Diploma Tour traveled from Fayetteville to south Arkansas as part of two weeks spent on the road celebrating graduates of online degree programs. These graduates stayed in their hometowns, improving their quality of life and strengthening their communities through higher education.
Miller wanted a master's degree in educational technology, and she wanted it from the U of A, but leaving her home and moving to Fayetteville was not an option for her. A degree delivered online by the U of A's College of Education and Health Professions provided the answer.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it if that wasn't available," said Miller, one of 14 spring graduates honored during the Razorbug Diploma Tour. "This was the degree I wanted, so there really was no other option for me. I just wouldn't have been able to get my master's. The flexibility was key to being able to be successful, so I really appreciated that."
And when asked where she wanted to have her framed diploma presented during the Razorbug Diploma Tour, Miller picked West Side Christian School, her home away from home. Miller's husband and daughter told a television reporter at the ceremony they were "super proud" of her. Other family, friends and school colleagues, including school administrator Dr. John Spencer, cheered for her.
The presentations featured as a backdrop the Razorbug, a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle converted to look like a Razorback, with tusks, snout, razor-edged, spine, hooves and curly tail.
"My hometown is El Dorado, Arkansas," Miller said. "I was born here; I've lived here my whole life. Being able to be here in my hometown with my family, my parents, keeping my job to help support my family while still earning this degree has just been a great experience for me."
Michael Hevel, associate dean for research, strategy and outreach in the College of Education and Health Professions, presented Miller's framed diploma to her on June 23. The sun beamed hot and bright in the former oil boom town, but big trees beside the parking lot offered some relief with their shade. Voices of children drifted on the breeze as Vacation Bible School got started inside.
Mike Malone, U of A vice chancellor for economic development, joined the tour in El Dorado, and Ed Pohl, new dean of the Graduate School and International Education, sent a congratulatory letter and GSIE swag for Miller.
Miller said she's already putting her new knowledge from the educational technology master's degree into play.
"I felt like it was important for me to stay relevant with my students," she said. "I teach older students and I've been able to give them some experience with some new programs, even in my history class, so they've been exposed to some things that maybe later on will be helpful to them."
Hannah Miller also graduated from the U of A in the spring, with a bachelor's degree in social work, and she began a master's degree this fall. Occasionally, mother and daughter studied together at a coffee shop in downtown El Dorado, which was renovated in recent years. The Murphy Arts District opened in 2017 as part of $100 million invested downtown in a plan to completely revitalize the town, according to Arkansas Money & Politics.
"Sometimes, it's easy to get distracted by things that are going on at home," Cindy Miller said. "Sometimes, I needed a different environment so I would pack up and go to PJs and get a cup of coffee and sit. It was great being able to look out the window at the beautiful downtown area of El Dorado and still be working in my classes."
Most engaging were project-based classes, Miller said.
"I loved Dr. (Derrick) Mears' classes," she said. "We built websites and made new instructional tools that I actually could use and built them for the classes that I was teaching at the time. I really enjoyed all the classes that had projects. As new things come out, I think I'm more likely to pick up and try some now than I would have been before."