Meet Steve Sonksen, a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s online History, MA program. The University of Nebraska Online Worldwide had a chance to interview Steve about his thoughts on the program, online learning and how it impacted his career.
What led you to the program?
I’ve always been a history buff, but I really got into it when I was teaching 5th grade U.S. History. As I got into teaching history more, I realized how much I loved it and how much I’ve always loved it. So, it started when I wanted to take a couple of classes from a respected, well-known university. I found the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s history program and started by taking classes. I was so impressed by the first class, that I took another and another. It went so well, and I loved it so much that I just ended up sticking with it and going all the way through to finish the degree. Going into it, I wasn’t planning on completing the master’s program, I planned to pick up some classes for content.
Tell us about your experience in the program.
After I enrolled in the first online course, I was hooked. The quality of that first class was far above and beyond the traditional lecture courses I had been in before. I was blown away with what I got out of the course. But it wasn’t the quality and the amount of information that hooked me, it was the process of learning to be a historian. That is what kept me going. It was actually the hands-on work that helped me learn so much, I wasn’t expecting to do the analytical and historical work that we did in the course. This approach allowed me to learn 10-fold, 100-fold! I was getting so much out of the classes.
What was your background going into the program?
I started out with a degree in elementary education and upon graduation started teaching. Through the years, I taught 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and a little bit of 7th and 8th grade. I also had my master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.
What are your thoughts on the online aspect of the program?
The online venue through the University of Nebraska at Kearney was amazing. It was a quality, quality, quality program. I was just overly impressed with the whole thing, but specifically their tight group of faculty. You could see it through your interactions with them, and the interconnectedness of the content from one course to another. The faculty knew what they were doing from a curriculum standpoint, and I could appreciate that since my first master’s degree was in curriculum and instruction. The program was set up in a way that created an interconnected experience. It was truly life changing to me, and I would recommend it to anyone.
I went in wanting to enhance my historical background knowledge and it turned me into a historian.
How were you able to balance teaching full time while taking classes?
Very little sleep! Teaching is a demanding profession, and I had been teaching for more than15 years at that point, so I was sort of used to it. I fit my coursework in, during my non-teaching time, which ended up being nights and weekends. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun and I was driven the whole time. As an adult, I was cutting the check so wanted to get as much out of it as possible for the sacrifice I was making.
What were you thinking you would do with your additional degree?
I love teaching and was planning on continuing my career path in teaching, then all of a sudden - BOOM – my life changed.
My school district created a position for me. Now, I am the social studies instructional specialist for our district, a suburb north of Dallas with about 26,000 students. Alongside the director of social studies, the two of us run the social studies department for the school district. So I write a lot of curriculum, observe teachers, coach teachers and write more curriculum.
Prior to the position, I was in my last year of teaching and was named the Texas History Teacher of the Year. It was a cool honor. I believe that both the new position and award happened as a result of this degree.
Do you see daily ties back to the work you did with your degree from NU?
Yes, it’s huge. The number one tie-back is content. I write a ton of curriculum – for elementary, middle school and some high school. The pure content that I got out of the program helps me tremendously with that.
Now, in social studies education, we do not want the students sitting at a desk, listening to lectures. We want them out there doing the real work of historians. This is a huge push at the state level (Texas) and nationally. We want the kids analyzing primary sources and backing it with secondary sources so they can put their own historical interpretation together. Digging into primary sources and making interpretations was one of my favorite parts of graduate school. Through this program, I was able to see that this could be done in a classroom with 5th graders and so I started doing that. Then pretty soon, I had all these people from the district coming into my classroom and asking what I was doing, what was going on. They just loved it. So, I took the idea and broadened it for our department and for the teachers in our district, and now the kids in our district. This program not only made me a better teacher, but made me able to take the historical process and turn it into something our kids can do all the way from 3rd grade to AP high school classes.
Steve’s story is featured alongside others in the University of Nebraska Online Worldwide’s current marketing initiatives. The goal is to share the real stories of real students to encourage prospective students to see not just what individuals are doing with their degrees, but that they can do it too.