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Partnership offers UMW education degree in Butte

UMW News Bureau

A collaboration between the University of Montana Western and Montana Tech is offering students the opportunity to earn a bachelor of science in elementary education from Montana Western’s renowned education program by taking classes through UMW at the Montana Tech campus.

Students complete required teacher education coursework online and face-to-face at Montana Tech as well as enrolling in general education courses from Montana Tech to earn the degree from Montana Western without having to attend class on the Montana Western campus.

The program began after several Montana Western students living in Butte inquired about the possibility of attending UMW remotely. Several of the students worked full time and did not want to commute throughout the week to Dillon.

“I think this program gives an educational opportunity to students who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity,” Gilliard explains.

In spring 2006, Montana Western Education Professor Jen Gilliard organized a survey at the Montana Tech College of Technology and over 50 students, mostly non-traditional, showed interest. In fall 2006, Montana Western and Montana Tech finalized the collaborative program and began enrolling students.

Today, 50 students are enrolled in the program. Gilliard says the partnership has been a resounding success and is opening up a world of possibility for aspiring teachers living in and around Butte.

“I think this program gives an educational opportunity to students who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity,” Gilliard explains.

Doug Coe, the dean of the Montana Tech College of Letters and Sciences and Professional Studies, has worked closely with Montana Western on the partnership and says not only is the program beneficial to place-bound students, it pairs nicely with other academic programs at Tech.

“For some of our students in the more technical fields, it offers them more flexibility by preparing them to teach at secondary and higher levels,” Coe says. “The combination of the wide array of our technical programs and Montana Western’s education courses is a pretty powerful mix actually. It puts students in a good position to sell themselves into the job market.”

“There’s no way I could do this if I had to go to Dillon,” Foley-Edmundson says of her higher education pursuit. “It’s perfect for me.”

Nikki Foley-EdmunsonGilliard’s and Coe’s assertions certainly ring true for students like Butte native and Feely, Mont. resident Nikki Foley-Edmundson, 28, who will graduate from the program in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a minor in special education.

As a mother of two, Foley-Edmundson remembers thinking the prospect of attending college full time seemed daunting, if not impossible. Now, just credits away from her degree, she says the new program helped to make her college aspirations a reality.

“There’s no way I could do this if I had to go to Dillon,” Foley-Edmundson says of her higher education pursuit. “It’s perfect for me.”

By saving money on gas not having to commute to Dillon and by giving her more scheduling flexibility to do coursework on her own time — often after putting her children to bed — Foley-Edmundson says the program fits her lifestyle seamlessly.

“It’s totally for people like me, people who have a job that’s demanding, who have kids or live where I do,” she adds. “I love this program. I really do. I think anybody could do it if I can do it.”

Ramsay, Mont. resident Rebecca Robinson is also pursuing an education degree through the program. A 2011 graduate from the program, Robinson is now student teaching at the very same school she attended as a youth.

“This program saved me on so many levels," Robinson says.

Rebecca RobinsonRobinson says the new partnership enabled her to earn the degree she knew she wanted from the time she was an elementary student herself. Now, with a class of her own at the Ramsay School, Robinson says her education has come full circle.

“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to teach,” Robinson remembers. “This program saved me on so many levels. It saved me money by allowing me to live at home. I didn’t have to travel. I love it.”

After graduating she plans to earn a library and coaching endorsement from Montana Western, all from the comfort of Ramsay and Butte.

Robinson originally wanted to attend Montana Western but did not like the idea of commuting or spending extra money on rent for an apartment in Dillon. With the new partnership she is able to live with her parents and still pursue her degree.

Robinson also describes the tuition as affordable and says, although she was initially apprehensive about having to take some online classes, she soon appreciated the freedom and flexibility afforded by taking online classes. Montana Western professors also teach face-to-face classes in Butte on the Tech campus and make themselves available before and after class for advising.

“It’s nice that we can feel that they’re coming to actually help us rather than us having to go to them,” Robinson says of the education faculty. “I’d recommend this to anybody. I honestly love it and never thought I’d be able to do the online component. It takes a lot of self-control and self-motivation to do it but I can actually work during the day and take classes at night. It’s the best of both worlds; I am making money and getting an education.”

Just across town from the Tech campus, Montana Western graduate Jori Liva is already putting her degree to work.

Liva graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the new program in spring 2010 and finished her special education degree requirements in summer 2010. Liva, 32, also earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Montana Tech in 2005.

“It enables a lot of people who think they can’t go to school or quit their job to get a degree,” Liva adds.

Jori LivaA mother of four, Liva now works full time teaching sixth through 12th grades at the Butte High Career Center Crossroads Day Treatment Program. Liva credits the new partnership between UMW and Tech with helping to make her career possible.

“It actually was a perfect thing for me because I have four small children, so in order for me to go to school it had to be a program set up like this,” Liva explains. “I found out about the program and that I could do it and still be at home with my kids. I called Kathy Shipman [UMW professor of education] and I was in school one week later.”

Liva says taking online classes was an immediate adjustment, but she soon became accustomed to the flexibility those particular classes afforded her.

“It enables a lot of people who think they can’t go to school or quit their job to get a degree,” Liva adds. “I think this program opens up a lot of doors for people and gives them opportunity that might not normally exist.”

Liva finishes with advice she gives to her own students.

“Anything is possible,” she adds. “If you sit down and look at it there is always a way.”

For more information on this unique program, which also includes secondary teaching certificate course work in math, science, biology and business, contact the Montana Western Office of Admissions at (406) 683-7331 or Kathy Shipman in the Montana Western Education Department at (406) 683-7016.

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