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Corporate trainer uses online degree to get creative with her career

Amanda Haddaway went from working as a corporate trainer to becoming an author and philanthropist. After earning an online master's degree in education, Amanda went on to write the book "Destination Real World: Success after Graduation" and co-founded Cocktails for a Cause, an organization she started with two friends to benefit local charities.

What inspired you to head back to school?

I was a corporate trainer for an IT consulting firm and I was traveling extensively to our offices throughout the country. My boss (and mentor) saw an ad for the educational technology leadership program at George Washington University. She knew that I was interested in pursuing a graduate degree and thought that the program might be a good fit. I really liked that the program was comprised of three subject areas: technology, leadership and education/training. All three were areas of interest and subjects that I taught as a corporate trainer.

What made you decide to earn an education degree online as opposed to on campus?

I needed a program that worked into my life and not a program that required making adjustments to my existing travel schedule for work. Although I was living approximately 30 minutes from campus, I often needed to do my schoolwork from other cities due to the travel demands of my job. The beauty of online learning is that you can be anywhere at any time and still have the experience of community. We had students who were living internationally because of their jobs, and they were still able to effectively participate in the online discussions and assignments.

What were the benefits of studying for a master of arts in education online?

We were able to have firsthand experience with educational technology as a part of our learning. George Washington University used Blackboard to host and facilitate the learning process. We also used video for some lectures and class assignments.

Additionally, we had a very diverse student body. There were students from the K-12 teaching environment, as well as trainers like me and other people who were interested and involved in the field of education. The students were from all over the country and a few lived internationally.

How did your interactions with professors and other students happen online? Any surprises?

I have to admit that I was a little skeptical on how this was all going to work, but I forged some online friendships that I still maintain today. Technology really can be a great connector!

There were a few collaborative projects and I emailed with classmates as well as used a wiki to work collaboratively on an assignment. I had one phone conversation with a professor for an educational policy class.

What did a typical day look like while you were going to school online?

Since I was working full-time and traveling a good bit, my time was limited so I tried to do a little each day. I would try to log in to Blackboard a few times a day in my spare time -- once before work, at lunchtime (if time permitted) and after work in the evenings.

The rigor of an online course is equivalent, if not more so, than a traditional "brick and mortar" class. For many courses, our mastery of topics was tested through our weekly writing assignments.

Tell us about Cocktails for a Cause

Cocktails for a Cause is a nonprofit organization that I co-founded with two friends to help other area nonprofits with fundraising and marketing. We hosted our first event in November for Heartly House, a shelter for abused women and children, and raised more than $1,200. The $15 admission fee included the attendee's first drink, and the remainder of the money went to the beneficiary organization. Cocktails for a Cause doesn't take a cut of the money outside of the event expenses. Our next event will be in March for Hospice's Camp Jamie, a camp that helps children who have recently lost a parent to a terminal illness.

When did you decide to write a book?

I've been freelance writing for a few years and it was one of those "bucket list" items. Every book starts with one page, so I just started writing all the questions that I had been asked repeatedly during my years as a college recruiter. I sought out other professionals to help write some of the sections and about seven months later, the book is now available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble's website.

What advice would you give those considering an online degree in education?

Be honest with yourself about your personal study habits and time management skills. I am a firm believer that online education isn't for everyone, but it was great for me. Online learning, in my opinion, requires more self-discipline than a traditional classroom program.