Graduate: M.Ed. in Special Education
"It worked with my schedule, and gave me more flexibility. If I knew something for school was coming up in about 3 weeks that was going to take up a lot of my time, I could work ahead."
Wendy Karcher’s love for her son with autism has kindled a passion in helping other children with special needs.
“My son had been diagnosed for probably about 3 or 4 years, and I learned a lot from working with him,” she said. “Because of that practice, I seemed to work well with other kids that had difficulties as well. I thought, well, maybe this is something I should pursue, so I did.”
Karcher left her previous master’s degree program in biology at Northern Michigan University in 1999 when her husband accepted a faculty position at the University of Arkansas. She enrolled at the U of A when her youngest son entered kindergarten in 2015, passing the in-between years as a wife, mother and pre-school teacher. She earned her Master of Education in Special Education in May 2018, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder, and is now a social studies special education teacher at a public school in Fayetteville.
“I never realized how much I would enjoy not only teaching, but teaching students with disabilities,” Karcher said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together every day, trying to figure out what you can do to help this student reach their goal.”
Returning to college after 16 years was intimidating, but Karcher discovered the motivation and tools she needed in a comfortable and non-threatening online environment.
“When I first started to do this, I took one class because I wasn’t sure if it was something I was really going to like,” she said. “Within three weeks, I was hooked. It was easier as a mom to do it online, because I was also teaching pre-school at the time. It worked with my schedule, and gave me more flexibility. If I knew something for school was coming up in about 3 weeks that was going to take up a lot of my time, I could work ahead.”
Karcher stayed focused and organized with help from instructors who made themselves available through phone calls, emails and texts. As a resident of Fayetteville, she had the additional option to attend an instructor’s office hours.
“If I sent them an email or a text, I would hear back from them within 24 hours,” she said. “They were great at communicating.”
The student online sessions were mini-lectures for Karcher that felt like a traditional classroom. She also enjoyed the collaborations during their practicums, or student teaching.
“We would present our biggest problem to the instructor and she’d put together a slide, and then all of the people in the class would troubleshoot, try to help each other solve the problem in the class that we’re having,” Karcher said. “I found the other students very helpful with my problems as well as very respectful to any suggestions that I had to offer.”
When Karcher moved from Michigan to Arkansas, she found no opportunities to apply her bachelor’s degree in zoology. After so many years away from school, Karcher faced numerous doubts and fears.
“I thought I’d fail,” Karcher admitted. “Maybe I’d lost a little bit of my edge as far as keeping up with everybody else. It was a balancing act—how am I going to work, how am I going to take care of my family, am I going to be good enough, am I going to be smart enough?”
Karcher professes pride in being a U of A graduate. She said one of the biggest thrills of her life was walking across the stage to accept her diploma while her husband, a member of the faculty, watched.
“I would recommend (the online program) for the ability to structure your life around it rather than it consuming your whole life,” Karcher said. “I recommend it for the friendly faculty. I recommend it for the collaboration that you get to embark on with other students. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and try.”