Dean Pedersen shakes Michelle's hand at commencement

A teacher's path home

Online education program allows military spouse to complete degree while stationed abroad

When Michelle Taylor walked across the stage at December’s commencement ceremony to accept her master’s degree, she culminated a journey of more than 7,300 miles and three countries. And though she didn’t step foot on campus during her two years in the Master of Education in Teaching program, she felt strongly about attending graduation.

“Being at commencement was so moving, so powerful,” Taylor says. “That day, I joined other educators who, like me, had completed their degrees. Though I spent my time behind a computer, I was able to connect and share this moving moment with my fellow Gamecocks.”

Taylor began the 100 percent online master’s degree program while her husband, Jeff, a captain in the U.S. Army, was stationed at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. She was teaching kindergarten at the school on base and was a busy mom to two young daughters.

“Being a military spouse who had to constantly move around, the online program was flexible and convenient,” Taylor says. “I even completed one course while we traveled to Spain to visit my husband’s family. I could literally do my work from anywhere in the world, and all I needed was my computer."

Taylor says though her professors were a 17-hour plane ride away, she never felt isolated.

Being so far away, in a small way, it made me feel more connected to home.

Michelle Taylor, alumna, teacher and military wife

“My professors were just an email away and communicated constantly. We easily stayed connected, and I was able to work with other teachers who allowed me to step outside my classroom and learn from them. And I was able to teach them — we helped each other grow as professionals.”

Taylor grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and taught elementary school in Fort Mill, South Carolina, before her husband, who is also a University of South Carolina alumnus, joined the military.

“I lived in South Carolina for 24 years before our first move to South Korea. Just being able to step outside my bubble and see the world has been awesome,” she says. “South Korea has so many places to explore, places you wouldn’t see in the States. And I just loved the food. Living abroad, raising children in a place so different from where I grew up, really opened my eyes and made me value diversity.”

Her value of diversity in education was sparked as well during her studies.

“In all of my classes, there was a universal theme: the value and promotion of diversity in the classroom,” Taylor says. “I was surrounded by diversity, living it each day. The program taught me how to integrate that diverse experience into my everyday teaching and showed me why it was important to do so.”

As she was finishing her degree, Taylor’s husband was transferred to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Now, she teaches second grade at a public school near the base.

“Our school serves a lot of military kids. There will always be a special place in my heart for kids whose moms and dads are constantly leaving for training or missions. My time spent in South Korea makes me go above and beyond, to make sure my students’ families are involved and feel welcomed.”

Taylor says she felt welcomed as she came home to South Carolina, returning for commencement on Dec. 17 to accept her degree. She even credits the Master of Education in Teaching program for keeping her from feeling too homesick while living abroad.

“Being so far away, in a small way, it made me feel more connected to home.”

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