Online Learning interviewed UGA alumna and current online student, Haley Faulkner, on her Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia and her experience with learning online. She explains her passion for educating those with literacy and learning disabilities.
What is your name and specific degree(s) completed at UGA? My name is Haley Faulkner. I attended UGA as an undergraduate and received a BS in Psychology and a BA in Cognitive Science with an emphasis in linguistics and psychology in May 2016. Right now, I just wrapped up my first year in the MAT Special Education program as well as my online certificate in dyslexia.
What made you decide to pursue this Master degree and Certificate? Up until my last semester of undergrad, I had planned to take a year off and then apply to a clinical psychology grad program. I wanted to be a psychologist. However, my senior year at UGA, I took a developmental language class and an educational psychology course where I learned about language disorders (like dyslexia) and how to provide intervention for said disorders. I got to participate in a service-learning component for my EPSY course, where I worked with kindergartners on letters, phonemes, and sight words. I really enjoyed this, and I ended up getting a job at a learning center doing the same thing. I worked at Lindamood-Bell Learning Center for almost three years, and I decided I wanted to do what they do (sensory-cognitive instruction focused on process versus content in literacy) on a much larger, accessible scale. Teaching kids to read who previously never thought they’d finish a book was incredibly gratifying. I loved my job, and I wanted to reach a wider audience. With guidance from a few professors in the College of Education, I decided that applying to the MAT in Special Education and Dyslexia Certificate program would be the best way for me to pursue my passion in literacy and learning disabilities. I am currently in the College of Education pursing my MAT in Special Education (General Curriculum) and also pursuing my online certificate in dyslexia.
How did you find the experience of completing a degree online? I actually didn't know about the dyslexia certificate until I spoke with my adviser, Dr. Kristen Sayeski (who also oversees the certificate with Dr. Jennifer Lindstrom). The courses required for the certificate are woven into the MAT program I'm in, so completing the certificate wasn't going to push my May 2020 graduation date back. The online experience for the certificate makes it easy to complete my MAT practicums in local schools. I was hesitant at first because I find that I learn better in person, but professors like Dr. Lindstrom and Dr. Sayeski make their online courses highly interactive, which makes everyone engage much more. In fact, I’d say that my online courses are more interactive and engaging than some of the lectures I took in Undergrad.
What is your main area of research and how are you applying it to your career? My research interest focuses on student-athletes with learning disabilities and effective interventions for these student athletes. Adults with learning disabilities are often an overlooked population - most of my peers focus on students in grade school. But when you don’t have those foundational reading skills, and you’re suddenly thrown into an academically rigorous school like UGA, it can be really rough. I’ve been working at UGA’s Rankin M. Smith Student Athlete Academic Center since undergrad, and I’ve gotten to know how challenging the student part of being a student-athlete can be. Like I said, it’s an overlooked population. Career-wise, I plan on continuing my work with student-athletes by bringing structured literacy and explicit, specialized instruction to UGA’s student-athletes. I already utilize Orton-Gillingham based interventions on a daily basis with some of my students, and I’ve seen incredible improvements. My hope is that I can help UGA’s Athletic Department create a model of academic support that fosters literacy, independence, and confidence in its student-athletes long after they leave Athens.
What is/was the most rewarding aspect of belonging to this program? The most rewarding part of the coursework and practicum of the dyslexia program is being able to immediately apply what I’m learning in my coursework to my students. There is no delayed return; I can apply what I learn in my readings on ADHD or Dyslexia to my students the next day. I can see daily how beneficial this program has been to me - to my students. I use what I’ve learned to inform instruction, and because of that, my students are making greater and greater gains in reading.
What would you say to someone that is interested in pursuing this degree/any online degree at UGA? Personally, I would recommend anyone interested in becoming a better teacher take the classes in the dyslexia certificate. The online delivery makes it incredibly convenient, the coursework is intriguing and interesting, and the faculty does a great job of presenting the most current and relevant research on dyslexia and reading disabilities. I’d suggest any teacher pursue this certificate. All teachers are reading teachers, and all teachers should be able to teach ALL of their students how to read - whether they’re gifted or 5 grade levels behind their peers. As I’ve said before, UGA’s online instruction is engaging, interactive, and incredibly well-engineered. It’s not like buying a degree online and jumping through hoops to get a pay raise - my online degree at UGA inspires me academically while also allowing me to work fulltime. I get the best of both worlds.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your work at UGA? In the dyslexia certificate program, you get opportunities to be trained in Wilson Reading System (WRS) and Orton-Gillingham reading methodologies. For teachers, this training is invaluable and sought-after. So not only are you becoming an expert on dyslexia and reading disabilities, but you’re getting trained in the most effective and trusted structured literacy interventions. I just spent an intensive week of training with Josie Calamari of The Schenck School - a dyslexia-specialized school in Atlanta - to become an Orton-Gillingham classroom educator.