Stefan Kells was an enterprising graduate student eager to walk the stage in cap and gown. But there was another motivation to graduate for the self-proclaimed, hardcore Star Trek fan.
"I've always wanted to pursue a master's degree," Kells said. "It was proving to myself I could do it and proving wrong the others who doubted me, as well. School was not easy for me. I have a learning disability, and I was mocked by teachers, teacher aides and other students. This was to say, 'I can do it.'"
Kells graduated from the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Educational Technology online program from Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SOSU) in December 2018. He is also a coordinator of academic services at the SOSU Grayson College campus and a longtime volunteer at the Whitewright (Texas) Public Library.
"I enjoy helping people with technology," Kells said. "Pretty much everything that I've done with the library, everything building up to my current job at Southeastern and everything we do today is technology-based."
Obviously, having the ability to bring two worlds together drew Kells in like a Star Trek marathon.
"I want to learn how we can use that to make ourselves more efficient, keep ourselves organized and also keep a personal relationship with people, even though technology is so prevalent," he said. "That's what led me to pursue it. The Star Trek side and the practical application of being able to help people with technology led me down the educational technology track."
I'm Giving Her All She's Got, Captain
Kells battled through his learning disability to graduate from Bells High School (Texas) in 2008. He also earned an Associate of Arts in elementary education from Grayson College and a Bachelor of Science in behavioral sciences from SOSU. He is a first-generation college graduate.
"I started in 2011 with my first position on campus at Southeastern and held many student worker roles," Kells said. "After I graduated in 2013, I went home to take care of family. My grandmother passed away that year. It was a difficult time. I was living with my grandfather."
Both patience and experience paid off for Kells with a full-time job as an admissions and recruitment specialist at SOSU in November 2013. He also served as admissions counselor and recruiter for nearly four years before moving into his current role.
"I love being at Southeastern," Kells said. "I want to stay in higher education. I love helping students and helping the community. If at all possible, I'd like to climb the ladder of higher education. Doing something with technology would be cool, but I really like being on the frontline and working with students — that's where my passion is. Being that person and giving back is rewarding."
With a full-time job and a volunteer position, Kells knew that the online format of the M.Ed. C&I Educational Technology program was the only way he could realize his dream of earning a graduate degree.
"I meet with non-traditional students in this current position, so I meet them wherever they are," he said. "They work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so I might have to meet with them after the 5 o'clock hour. The time management aspect was a difficult thing to learn, but once I figured out what worked for me, it was manageable."
Beam Me Up, Scotty
The Zoom video conference tool SOSU employs made the experience of earning a degree online more hands on for Kells.
"Even without being face to face, we were face to face," he said. "Being able to visit with the professor and other students and seeing what everyone was doing and asking how we can apply it to ourselves was big. We could talk about the material. We could talk about our job and about how it related to what we were discussing. I loved the Zoom aspect."
EDAD 5373: Public School Law and EDUC 5353: Learning Technologies to Bridge the Digital Divide were his two favorite courses in the online M.Ed. C&I Educational Technology program curriculum.
"In a way, I wish I would have taken school law by itself instead of with another class because it was hard to focus the amount of time on it that I wanted, while taking both," Kells said. "I loved learning about school law in public schools and higher education schools and how we are using the law in the environment we're in. It was completely fascinating to me."
The digital divide course especially hit home for Kells because of where he lives.
"We talked about the ways we can bridge that digital divide," he said. "In the Sherman/Denison area where I live, we have pretty good internet service. But once you start hitting those nearby rural towns, it gets a little spotty. It boils down to the fact that we have not updated the infrastructure for technology since we got it."
Kells linked a lot of the information from the course to his volunteer position at the library.
"It is a small, 2,000-square-foot library, but we serve that town and surrounding towns in the rural Grayson County area," he said. "Many of our patrons don't have access to the internet at home. It's not that they can't afford it — they just don't have access because internet providers don't serve the area.
"Learning about that was amazing. I'd like to dive a little bit deeper into how we can bridge that divide and make technology and information available to everybody."
Live Long and Prosper
Kells loves helping students achieve their goal of earning a college degree. He hopes to do so for the rest of his career, in between volunteering at the library, attending comic cons and re-watching episodes of Star Trek.
"I'm not looking for anything but if I were to go into the job market, I am confident I would find something either in education or in the technology realm with my degree," he said. "It wouldn't have been possible for me to be in this position if I didn't have somebody in a role similar to this as I was going through school. Being that person and giving back has been rewarding. Earning a master's degree also wouldn't have been possible without my friends and family being so supportive."
After overcoming difficulties with learning, Kells is especially proud of his accomplishments as a student and an employee at SOSU. The online format suited him well.
"The seven-week courses helped a lot because I didn't have time to forget anything," he said. "The program balanced itself out. Doing it all online was refreshing. Many of my classmates were teachers. I got to see into their world a little bit more from the education aspect. It was rewarding to see that."
Kells believes that, with the right approach, any student can broaden their horizons in an online program at SOSU.
"Open-mindedness is critical, and I'm not saying that just because I'm an employee at Southeastern," he said. "We have students from all over the country and the world. Go in with an open mind, and be aware it's not just Oklahoma and Texas students in the classroom — there are people from all backgrounds. Also, keep an open mind of figuring out what to do in the class and how to work together to get it done."
Then, make it so.
Learn more about the SOSU M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Educational Technology online program.
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