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5 Graduate Education staff members earn post-grad degrees

Graduate Education staff graduates with master's, doctorates
January 14, 2014

The staff at Arizona State University Graduate Education take their commitment to higher education seriously. Five full-time staff members were awarded graduate degrees in December 2013, a record for the department.

“These are very impressive graduates,” says Andrew Webber, vice provost for Graduate Education. “They were outstanding in supporting the needs of over 14,500 ASU graduate students, all while earning master’s and doctoral degrees themselves.”

Although it was a challenge to balance a full-time job with pursuing a graduate degree, all agree it was possible because of an excellent support system, including fellow staff members who encouraged them, department leadership and supervisors who were flexible in scheduling so they could pursue their educational goals, and family members who cheered them on and believed in them.

Jennifer May, a student support coordinator in the Graduate Education office, received a master’s (MEd) in higher and postsecondary education from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She previously earned a bachelor’s in history at ASU.

“I have been working in higher education for quite a while now and I know I want to continue doing so,” she says. “This particular degree will instill the knowledge I need to continue on this path.”

“I have always had a curiosity to learn how things work,” says Alex Padilla, who graduated with a master’s in mechanical engineering from the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He received his bachelor’s at ASU in the same discipline in 2011.

“It is without a doubt that ASU has one of the greatest engineering schools in the nation,” he continues. “I was also fortunate that ASU saw potential in me and provided me with undergraduate scholarships to make a higher education possible. There was no way I could go anywhere else for my graduate study.”

The first in his family to obtain an advanced degree, Padilla continues at the Graduate Education office as a student support specialist.

Marc Wellbrock, a student support specialist, also graduated with a master of education (MEd) in higher and postsecondary education from the Teachers College. He previously earned a bachelor’s in journalism and mass communication at ASU.

“I’ve spent much of my professional career working in higher education through various departments here at ASU,” says Wellbrock. “I knew that the MEd would be a nice compliment to that experience and give me transferable skills that I could use in my future career.”

“I’m a Sun Devil!” he says proudly. “Attending anywhere else never even crossed my mind.”

The first in his family to obtain an advanced degree, Wellbrock says his family is very proud of his accomplishment.

He plans to continue working in the Graduate Education office and with higher education as a whole. “ASU is at the forefront of many different areas, and working here, staying connected to that pulse of change, is something I continually want to be around and experience.”

Linda Manning, a student support services coordinator in Graduate Education, graduated with a doctorate in lifespan development psychology from the Teachers College. She previously earned a master’s in sociology from ASU.

Her research focused on academic achievement for underrepresented populations. “I want to help establish comprehensive support networks to empower these students to succeed, just as so many have empowered me.”

Manning says that since her early childhood, “my mother always told me I could do anything I set my mind to." She worked full-time throughout her graduate studies and welcomed a daughter during the first year of her doctoral program. Her academic career has also been punctuated with community volunteer work, including speaking to students about college and graduate school, cooking and serving meals with the Ronald McDonald House, and mentoring young girls.

Manning has joined ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy as a management research analyst principal. “I absolutely love it!” she says. “I am doing research full-time, just as I hoped, working with at-risk populations for an amazing institute.”

Amber Nicole Pfannenstiel loves learning and teaching. After earning her doctorate in English rhetoric composition and linguistics from ASU’s Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, she was offered a faculty position at Northern Arizona University.

Pfannenstiel began pursuing her master’s in English when she started working for ASU Graduate Education (then named Graduate College) in 2003.

“I decided to pursue a master's degree initially because I wanted to continue to learn,” says Pfannenstiel. “I really enjoyed my department and discovered a passion for teaching so I decided to pursue a PhD so I could be in school forever. As faculty at NAU, I still do homework as part of teacher prep. It’s all my dreams come true.”

In addition to her work in Graduate Education, Pfannenstiel taught K-6th grade at a Saturday school, then also at a community college. 

She had a son during her doctorate. “Having a baby during this process made me so much more organized,” she continues. “I have a set writing and researching process now because I wrote when he napped or when I had babysitters. Also, lots of deep breaths helped!”

After leaving the Graduate Education office in 2012, Pfannenstiel says she misses “the fabulous staff I worked with and how supportive they were during this whole process. “I feel a lot of gratitude toward my supervisors over the years who allowed me to work and attend classes and meetings. It was all totally worth it!”

Pfannenstiel was honored as one of ASU’s top performing students at the Fall 2013 Graduate Commencement. See the video here.

Find more information about these and other outstanding students in our student stories.