New coast, new career.
When her husband, John, was transferred from California to Florida, Ashley McArthur encountered a serious shortage of jobs in her original field of sports medicine in Pensacola.
She felt like she was stuck until she stumbled upon a whole new area and job opportunity.
“I ended up getting hired to do instructional design — e-learning specifically — at Pensacola State College,” said McArthur, who worked for a gym in California prior to relocating to Florida. “I started doing it and loved it. Before that, it had not ever crossed my mind. I never would have bet I would be where I’m at today, doing what I’m doing.”
There was just one problem.
“I was doing the same tasks as everybody else but not getting paid the same because I didn’t have a master’s degree,” she said.
So, McArthur took a recommendation from her work colleagues and enrolled in the Master of Education in Instructional Design and Technology online program at the University of West Florida. After she graduated in 2016, John, a Marine, was transferred to Camp Pendleton in the San Diego area.
Although she was back home in California, McArthur wasn’t quite finished with UWF. She is now enrolled in the Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction online program. McArthur has also been an online graduate assistant since 2015.
“The master’s degree became a necessity, especially when I moved back to California,” she said. “If you didn’t have that master’s degree, they weren’t going to hire you. There are a lot of opportunities here and in Los Angeles.”
Ashley of All Trades
While she continues her higher education, McArthur is wearing several hats at her job as senior human resource specialist at Driver Farms in Dunnigan, California.
“I started with them doing project management, so it was just a natural transition into HR,” she said. “I do some policy writing, some contract authoring, instructional design and a couple of the human performance technology (HPT) projects. It’s a wide amount of things to do, but it’s a relatively small company, so I’m not overwhelmed.”
McArthur also does contract work for the military to prepare for her eventual return to full-time instructional design, which she hopes will come to fruition with the Marine Corps.
“Some of the training is archaic,” she said. “A lot of it is in early-stage Blackboard, and it has gotten to the point where it’s inconvenient, so no one wants to do it. People hurry up, rush through and do not retain everything.”
The online format has made the continuation of her higher education both feasible and manageable, even with all of the commitments in McArthur’s life.
“My daytime stuff takes up my full day,” she said. “I have my mornings and my evenings to do whatever I need to do for school online. It’s perfect. Being a graduate assistant is also awesome. I’ve done student learning objectives. It’s so flexible and wonderful.”
Right on the Money
In addition to the increased earning potential McArthur gained with the master’s degree, she was able to apply all of her knowledge from the program into her previous and current full-time jobs.
“Honestly, all of it,” she said. “I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Every single course was immediately applicable. My mind was blown. I was so surprised. I was expecting it to be like my bachelor’s and the post-graduate, where it was okay but you couldn’t really apply it. That was so far from the case.”
She enjoyed the HPT concentration courses the most because of the light-bulb moments they provided.
“It just made so much sense,” McArthur said. “Part of that was doing project management for as long as I’ve been doing it. It was one of those things where it was like, ‘Aha! I’ve been doing this and I understand.’ It made me better at what I do, so those were excellent.”
McArthur also credits her support system as a major reason for the success she has enjoyed so far in her return to higher education.
“My husband and I had a big sit-down before I went back for the doctoral program,” she said. “We really evaluated whether or not it would be beneficial. It’s good that we all arrived at the same conclusion that it would be a good thing for me to do as long as I could keep working. My friends and family are wonderfully supportive.”
Breaking New Ground
McArthur is the only person in her family to ever earn a college degree, although her younger sister recently enrolled at Texas A&M University.
McArthur was able to make the transition back to college partly because she had a full-time job. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo in 2011.
“If you come in with a job, it makes a huge difference,” McArthur said. “It’s practical because you’re not delving into student loan debt. At the same time, you take the tasks you have at your job and apply them to your courses and vice versa. If you need to do a design document, you can do it in your course and take it back and apply it in real life. The job aspect is huge.”
McArthur works with the Association for Educational Communications and Technology and John’s squadron, off-base, when she somehow has a little bit of free time. She also takes advantage of any opportunity she has to bake.
She is eager to see how the next chapter in her winding career path will unfold once she completes the doctoral program in 2020. McArthur is glad UWF arrived in her life at just the right moment in time.
“The staff at Pensacola State College said, ‘This is where you want to go. This is what you want to do. The people are wonderful,'” she said. “They could not have been more correct. It was a good recommendation by good people, and it turned out to be true.”
Learn more about the UWF online M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology program.
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