Careers in Adult Education: A Conversation with Ed.M. Student Monica Mustacchio

Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics showed that there were more than 50 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools. Enrollment in postsecondary institutions had increased 30 percent between 2000 and 2015, to a total of 17 million students.

New Jersey-based Monica Mustacchio, Early Childhood Director with a BA in Psychology and current student in the Rutgers University online Education Master’s in Adult and Continuing Education (Ed.M. in ACE) program, hopes her education and career path will allow her to influence all levels of learners, from preschool to postsecondary. Mustacchio’s career goals include improving her skills in coaching and mentoring early childhood education teachers, continuing her education in a doctoral program after graduation from the program, and eventually teaching teacher in an early childhood education program in a postsecondary institution.

A Background in Early Childhood Education

Mustacchio is already heavily involved in education both in her role as an early childhood program director at a licensed child care center.

Monica reported that “I have directed and taught at early childhood programs ranging from ages six weeks to six years old. Also, I have coached and mentored teachers in areas of different content for early childhood education.”

Her motivations for pursuing a master’s degree in adult and continuing education stem from her desire to facilitate adult learning, support the goals of lifelong learners, and be an agent of change in the field. “I’m driven to become a professor and pass my knowledge and experiences to others to provide quality instruction in early childhood,” Mustacchio added.

A Willingness to Teach — and to Learn

Mustacchio’s drive led her to the Rutgers Ed.M. in ACE online program. Rutgers serves more than 58,000 students and is home to 32 schools and colleges. She explained that there are many advantages to participating in the program, from the ability to learn anywhere, on your own time, to access to Ph.D.-level faculty, small class sizes, and year-round offerings, and the option to participate at her own pace.”I was initially attracted to Rutgers due to the availability and accessibility of the courses,” Mustacchio noted. “Soon after enrolling, I found the guidance from program coordinator Dr. Alisa Belzer and our student support coach Nadine to be invaluable.”

Like many students in higher education, Mustacchio first had to decide if a return to school was right for her. In the end, factors that persuaded her included the program curriculum, the cloud-based learning management software, Canvas, which is across the program, and the collaborative activities in her classes.

“As I began to research graduate study programs, I was hesitant to return to school after a seven year break from completing my bachelor’s, but I know now I made the right decision,” she remarked. “Our courses are interactive, especially using Canvas and being able to collaborate in group projects and discussions.”

Best of all, the Rutgers Ed.M. in ACE program closely aligns with Mustacchio’s goal to become a professor of early childhood education.

“The A.C.E. program will help me achieve that career as I work on understanding how adults learn, creating the best teaching strategies to enable students to value and create a difference in their society.”

A Flexible Program Grounded in Adult Education

The Rutgers online Ed.M. in ACE program is well-suited to Mustacchio’s current profession and her desired career of teaching early childhood education at the postsecondary level.

“This program will provide me with a foundation of knowledge regarding teaching and an understanding of the adult education field,” she discussed. “Furthermore, this degree would help me work in my current profession and help our company grow knowledgeable educators who would contribute in helping and making a difference in young children’s education.”

When asked what elements of the program help her develop in these ways, she answered, “For starters, it’s the Rutgers curriculum.” As Mustacchio explained, specific skills explored in the Ed.M. in ACE program that could most benefit her career include being able to understand how adults learn and how adult educators can foster learning as a lifelong skill.

“It is important that we work on learning how to improve as educators and extend that knowledge and experience to others,” she added. “Additionally, collaboration with others is an important factor to promote critical and analytical thinking.”

Furthermore, the online nature of the degree is also a boon to Mustacchio. “Being able to learn online has been a significant help to my work-life-school balance,” she pointed out. “It’s difficult, as a working parent of two young children, to find the time to dedicate to all three aspects of my life. By having access to Rutgers’ online applications I’m provided with flexibility to study when my life and work affords me the time to concentrate on my studies.”

A Faculty Skilled in Adult Education

As Mustacchio knows first-hand, quality teachers can make or break a student’s education. At Rutgers, the faculty is experienced and diverse, with backgrounds from all areas of education and adult learning. In addition to the program’s coordinator, Dr. Belzer, Mustacchio has found the rest of the faculty encouraging and supportive.

“Our student support coach has always reached out to me and followed up with how I was doing with the course,” she said. “Reaching out to Dr. Belzer about advisement on courses to take given my professional and personal responsibilities has been helpful. Being able to reach out to our professors and classmates about any assignments or project collaborations has been an email away.”

“I don’t feel stressed to figure out how to incorporate a class schedule into my work and family schedule,” she continued. “I still feel completely organized and comfortable with completing assignments and meeting deadlines for each course.”

A Future in Adult and Continuing Education

All in all, Rutgers University affords thousands of students the opportunity to explore in-depth, advanced subjects. Within the online Ed.M. in ACE program, students such as Monica Mustacchio have taken their backgrounds in education and learned more about adult and continuing education, on their own schedules and with the assistance of the renowned faculty at Rutgers.

“I had completed an on-campus program during my undergraduate years, and I had taken some classes online, but being in an online program is definitely different and interesting,” Mustacchio concluded. “It takes a lot of self-discipline and time management skills to study online, however, having supportive faculty members and colleagues have made the transition rewarding.”

Should you be interested in pursuing a Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our enrollment advisors today. Our skilled staff can answer your questions on the online course offerings and the many perks of joining the Rutgers community.


Interview with Monica Mustacchio

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