Sandy Geller knows a thing or two about Florida Tech.
Not only did she earn her first graduate degree on-campus – she also teaches courses in the online psychology undergraduate program. So, why did this Panther go for her second master’s?
“I didn’t have to take the organizational leadership degree; I already have a master’s degree. For job purposes, one master’s is usually enough. I felt like it would open a whole new arena for me, a new set of doors, and I feel like it has. It really expanded on my skillset and will parlay me into the next phase of my career.”
Geller found that earning her degree online was just as rigorous as earning a degree on campus, but provided convenience and flexibility.
“I definitely learned as much as I did in a brick-and-mortar program. I loved the flexibility that the program offered me. It was highly interactive – I engaged a lot with my peers throughout the two years. I saw some of them at graduation which was really nice, and I got to meet a couple of the professors at graduation as well, which was very nice. The professors are amazing.”
We spoke with Geller about her professional background, her academic experience, how online students can be successful and more.
Tell me about your background.
I was born and raised in New York. I came to Florida, got married, had children and settled down. I was a stay-at-home mom raising four kids, and that was my career path for a very long time. Then, as they were getting a little bit older, I decided that I wanted to pursue child advocacy and child education, which is something I have always been very passionate about. I had some college under my belt before I had children, but not a full degree, so I went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCF. That opened up a lot of doors into what I was very passionate about: child advocacy, working with kids in foster homes, blended families, parental rights and domestic violence. I started going to conferences and doing research at the undergraduate level while still raising a family. That propelled me to the next level, along with needing higher education to really go after the career possibilities I wanted.
Since I knew I needed more education, I came to Florida Tech and I earned a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis on campus. I parlayed that degree into the child advocacy arena and worked for a state-run government agency, specifically with kids in foster care. I helped children with behavioral issues change their behaviors, I mentored and tutored them, and I worked with the families that had children in the foster care system. I would go to court and be a court-appointed advocate for the child. I also became the point-person that people relied on to get the full story at team leadership meetings because I worked on the frontline with the child or the family.
Having a seat at the table and being seen as a leader made me realize that I wanted to pursue that further, so I decided to earn my second master’s degree, also from Florida Tech, in organizational leadership.
It was perfect that the degree was offered online, as I had relocated at the time to Colorado due to my husband’s job. As I was earning my degree, I volunteered extensively with a community health center, focusing on dental care and prevention in kids. I did a lot of community outreach, including going into the community with mobile vans and getting practitioners to do assessments on children. I helped bring dental care to children who otherwise would not have access.
Recently, my husband’s job relocated to Lakeland, so we are back in Florida. I am working with a community health center in Central Florida to implement a school-based sealant program for children, including a mobile dental van at the school, to establish a proactive approach to preventative dental care. I’m currently acting as a liaison between the schools, the children and their families.
How did you feel about the online learning experience at Florida Tech?
I have a lot of friends in academia who both teach in-class and online, and all four of my kids at some point have had to take an online class, so I’ve been exposed to other online programs in those areas. I have to say, bar none, I feel like Florida Tech has the most clearly laid out, most manageable program. The whole program is very well-done.
I think tech support is spot-on. As a teacher or a student, I can email or call and they’ll rectify any problem. I feel like our administration that runs the program is very supportive and does a really nice job. If I have a concern or if there’s a student issue, I know I can always go to my boss and things get handled. They’re just very fair and honest people. I’ve had great experiences in all parts. And, even going back to when I earned my degree on campus, I had the same experience. The professors there were great then, too. I have always enjoyed, through my online program, every single professor I’ve had.
Did taking courses online change your perspective as an adjunct professor?
I taught for the undergraduate program before I started taking the classes online. Seeing it from both perspectives is beneficial. It opened my eyes and helped me be a better teacher because I’m so familiar with it from the other end. I can see it from both sides. I think it makes me a little bit more empathetic. A lot of times students will email me with some problem, like a travel or medical issue, and I feel like I’m very understanding of them because that’s what happens in life; sometimes stuff happens. I had wonderful professors in my program, absolutely wonderful, so I hope that the students I teach also have that experience.
Do you think the leadership program has enhanced your soft skills?
Absolutely. I feel like it added on another layer and delved into much deeper attributes that I didn’t even know that I had.
I’ve always thought of myself as a natural leader: I’m the first-born of five kids, I lead a family, I have four children, I’m a teacher. However, this course delved much, much deeper into leadership. It taught me and honed what skills I thought I had and grew them exponentially.
Did you have a favorite class?
I felt like the courses all built on each other and worked in harmony together. I almost couldn’t wait for the next course. It was a very smooth transition from one course to the next course.
Did you get to know your classmates?
We were really a community, the students in this program. We got to know each other due to the smaller class sizes. And, because there was only a handful of professors who taught for that program, the professors got to know us too. I felt like it was very community-based and cohesive.
It was especially nice that in discussion board posts, my peers remembered something that maybe I spoke about two courses ago. There were a lot of times like that. The professors would also comment on how they remember and note how I’m expanding on it. I felt like I took some of the knowledge, something that I experienced two classes ago, and then I learned something more and I was able to talk about it and communicate in a way that reflected what I had learned since the action occurred. Then, my classmates and professor would remember that I spoke about it and commented that it was interesting what I had learned.
What advice would you give students to be successful in the online classroom?
My first piece of advice is to be prepared because things can happen. Your internet can go out, or you’re traveling, and you can’t connect to Wi-Fi, etc. So, being prepared is essential. I travel a lot and I always make sure I bring multiple devices and books with me because sometimes you must have easy accessibility that you take for granted. Don’t get too cocky with the internet!
The second thing is time management. Nearly everything is laid out in the syllabus and you know when everything is due – that’s what’s so nice about the online learning format. You know your deadlines. You know what assignments are due. You know what’s coming up. There are no big surprises. If I knew we had weekend plans, I’d try to get all my work done during the week. I feel like most of the problems I have with the students that I teach is that they don’t plan ahead and manage their time correctly. Then, something happens, and they’re not able to log in and get everything done.
Who was your support system as you earned your degree?
My motivation and support system for my bachelor’s degree and first master’s would definitely be my four children. They were my inspiration. When I applied, they were right at the age where they were going to go off to college. I wanted to show them that, as an older person going back to school, if I can do it, then they could too. They were very supportive and very helpful.
For my second master’s, my husband was always very accommodating when I had a deadline or a project due. He’s definitely been my biggest support system currently because now my kids are all away. So, I would say my family for sure.
Do you have any future plans now that you’ve earned your degree?
I hope to do something on a larger scale. I’m looking for an urban setting to work in community outreach and use my leadership knowledge to hold a high position such as being a director position. I think greater things are yet to come!
Are you a graduate of Florida Tech’s 100% online degree programs? We would love to share your success story in our Student Spotlight series. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional details.