As a single mother of two young children, Megan McDaniel doesn’t have much time to herself. Her days consist of going to work, attending her children’s sporting events and spending a few hours with them at home before tucking them into bed, sitting down at a computer and focusing on school. Although tired by the end of her day, it is her faith, positive outlook and optimism for her future that keep her on track.
Life has not been easy for McDaniel. Growing up with much less than most people, her family lived on food stamps and her home life was filled with difficulties. She participated in sports and joined student organizations while in high school in an effort to avoid the troubles at home. Graduating from Cape Coral High School in 2008, she received a soccer scholarship to Iowa Central Community College; however, a broken leg caused her to drop out and move back to Florida where she met the father of her two children.
“Their father was in the military, so we moved around a lot; my life was put on hold,” she said. “Unfortunately, after several years, we parted ways and my kids and I moved back to Florida in 2014.”
Moving back with little to her name, she spent the next two years working various jobs, yet she was unable to make enough money to adequately pay for everything she and her children needed. The three lived with a close friend for one year while McDaniel’s paycheck paid for childcare, her car, food, clothing and other basic necessities. Tired of living paycheck to paycheck, she began looking at her options, one of which included going back to school.
“I realized that just working was not going to cut it anymore, and I was looking at my kids and saying to myself, ‘Gosh, I need to make more money than I am right now,’ and while they’re young, I can focus. So, I decided to go back to school,” she said.
Researching the various options in Southwest Florida, she initially thought about attending Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW). Her mind changed after learning a close friend, who was also a single mother, had attended Hodges and recommended McDaniel do the same. Relying heavily on her faith, McDaniel prayed about the opportunity to go back to school.
“I said, ‘God, guide me in the direction you want me to go, and if this is the direction, allow that platform for me,’ and he did,” she said.
During her meeting with Debbie Clark, admissions coordinator at Hodges, McDaniel shared her goal of becoming a teacher, to which Clark suggested the interdisciplinary studies (IDS) program. Enrolling in fall 2016, McDaniel said, “She [Clark] would always check on me. She is probably the reason why I’m still here. I had a difficult time at first, but she was like my mentor. She was there whenever I needed her to be, taking a vested interest in me and my children, which makes me, as a student, feel much more welcome.”
Receiving little to no support from anyone close to her, the encouragement she received from Clark made her more determined to fulfill her goal of becoming a teacher. Although managing her own classroom is still a few years away, McDaniel is already receiving experience as a Kindergarten paraprofessional at Harsh Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres, Florida.
“I have realized that I belong in a Kindergarten classroom. I thought I belonged in a first or fifth-grade classroom, but Kindergarten is where I am meant to be,” she explained.
As a single mother working full time during the day and taking care of her children in the evenings, her busy schedule requires that she take all her courses online – an aspect of Hodges McDaniel finds to be convenient, yet unfortunate due to the inability to have personal interaction with her classmates and professors.
“All of the courses I’ve taken so far have been incredible. If I am planning to be a teacher, I feel as if I need to know a little bit about everything, and Hodges gives me the opportunity to do that,” she explained.
Although an online student, McDaniel appreciates the unique approaches of some professors who have made learning online more than just writing papers and completing discussion board posts. In her Environmental Studies course, she had the opportunity to take her children to Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve as part of an assignment for class, incorporating the experiential style of learning embraced by many Hodges professors.
“After the field trip, the professor required that we create a PowerPoint, which to some students is tedious, but I love it because it gives me the chance to see other people and which park they visited,” she said. “It was the first time I’ve been required to do something outside of the normal format of an online student.”
As she completes her electives and pre-requisites in winter 2018, she is preparing for the next phase of her degree program, which is the core courses of the interdisciplinary studies program. The IDS program is formatted differently for traditional and online students. Traditional students are enrolled in a “wheel” format, which allows students to take a grouping of three courses in a 15-week period. Students must pass all three courses before moving on to the next term in the wheel. Online students in the IDS program enroll in an accelerated format, which requires students to complete each core course online in 7 ½ week mini-terms.
Realizing the intensity of the program, she admits she is ready to face it and already has her sights set on graduating in either summer or fall 2019.
“When graduation day arrives, I’ll be the first person in my immediate family to graduate from high school as well as college,” she said. “Hodges has provided me a fast track to a much better life. It’s allowed me to provide stability for my family. For me, it’s been a great experience, and the fact it has been a quicker one has made it so much better.”