After series of 'something else’s,' Corbett reaches longtime goal of earning master’s at age 58

Sherry Corbett always wanted to earn a master’s degree, but for years something else took precedence – until this year.

In May, Corbett, 58, earned a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in teaching and learning in the 21st century through Ashland University online classes.

“I could not afford to complete my master’s were I to have to do it in person and/or attend during the day, as I not only have to work, but I do not want to give up my job teaching,” Corbett said. “The seven-week courses allowed me to get as many credits as I needed to get finished as soon as possible.”

The program, which she started about a year ago, also allowed her to focus in an area of interest – technology.

Because she was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse on a small Michigan island in Lake Huron, Corbett said online classes were her best option – and probably her only one.

“The only way on or off the island is by ferry from spring to fall, and airplane in the winter, which I love,” she said about living on the 34-square-mile Bois Blanc Island. “It is literally being stranded on an island.”

Corbett is now teaching at an elementary school in the small Michigan town of Rogers City, while not an island, it still is on Lake Huron.

She discovered AU’s online program while teaching GED classes in the Ingham County Jail in Michigan near Lansing. She had attended a correctional education conference that included AU, which has had one of the leading correctional education programs in the country since 1964.

A teaching career that had taken her from Iowa to Florida to Michigan and from public to correctional to one-room schoolhouse education had been one of those “something else” things that had kept Corbett from earning a master’s degree earlier.

Keeping Corbett on the move and busy included a saturated teaching market in Iowa, where she got her bachelor’s degree but struggled to find a teaching job; a hurricane in Florida, where her family lost their home and all of their belongings; and schools closing and programs being terminated in Lansing, Michigan, where she went to live near her sister after the hurricane.

Another “something else” came on Oct. 26, 2011, when her youngest son was killed in an accident at his high school and she took a two-year leave of absence. That was only about two years after his dad died.  Helping herself and her oldest son, who now lives on his own in Michigan, through those family tragedies took time.

It wasn’t taking online classes that concerned her when she finally found the time to pursue her master’s degree. She wasn’t sure how balancing graduate school and teaching would go

It didn’t take long for that feeling to fade away with how good AU’s program is, she said.

“Every single professor was very helpful and took the time to genuinely listen to me and respond to questions and concerns,” she said.

Kendra Wisdom was one of those professors. Wisdom also is AU’s director of graduate advising. While she didn’t serve as an adviser for Corbett, Wisdom is an adviser for about 500 students, many like Corbett who are pursuing a master’s later in life.

“It can be a real struggle,” Wisdom said about the students she advises. “Not just coming back later in life, but it also can be a struggle sometimes for people with so much going on. You really have to mentally compartmentalize and you need support.

“I just hope we can help more people achieve their goals,” Wisdom added.

What Corbett learned from AU, she used at Bois Blanc Pines School throughout the 2021-22 school year when she taught three students in kindergarten through eighth. Two years ago, she had seven students during her first school year on Bois Blanc Island, which has about only 60-some permanent residents.

She plans to continue using what she learned this school year with her 25 students in second grade in Rogers City, Michigan. Some of that includes using Google classroom, putting assignments online and using new formats to teach content instead of the traditional paper, pencil and book, she said.

“I’m very appreciative that the program I did through Ashland was kind of a design-your-own program,” Corbett said. “I don’t have any interest in being an administrator, so I’m grateful that I could learn more about using technology.

“I just always wanted to have my master’s,” Corbett added. “It was not about increasing my pay and not about my district saying I had to have it. It was just something I always wanted to do.”

Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.