Mason student Susan Walsh was working as a special education assistant in an elementary school, after taking a few years off to raise her family, when she realized her passion for working with kids who have behavioral and emotional disabilities. To achieve her goals of working with these students, Walsh knew she would have to go back to school for a Master’s degree in Special Education. However, in order to get her master’s, she needed to first earn a bachelor’s degree. This led Walsh to the Bachelors of Individual Studies (BIS) program at George Mason University; a program designed for adult learners, offering numerous transfer credit options and opportunities to integrate professional experiences into the classroom.
“I wanted to go back and get my BIS and BAM (Accelerated Masters) because it was the right time for me,” Walsh said. “You are able to do so much more with a degree, especially in the educational system. When I figured out I wanted to work with students who had behavior and emotional disabilities, I knew I had to get my master’s and I found that Mason’s BIS program would provide me the bachelor’s degree I needed.” Using several credits that she had already earned from Northern Virginia Community College, advisors within the program helped her create a schedule that would allow Walsh to build her own degree. “The advisors are great because they completely support you. They understand that life often gets in the way so they help you in building a class schedule that works with your personal life.”
While her main goal is special education, Walsh is focusing her undergraduate degree on courses within sociology and psychology to further develop her understanding of behavioral and emotional issues. “I wanted to take classes, like adolescent and childhood development, that would relate to working with the student population I am interested in. The BIS program was able to give me the opportunity to gain the background knowledge necessary to work with these types of students.” Currently, Walsh is working on her capstone project on early intervention for at-risk children. By visiting local schools, talking to people working in that environment, and doing research, she is learning that family is a strong influence on how a child develops.
As Walsh continues to earn her degree, she said that she realizes that she is being given an opportunity she never thought she’d have. “Getting a BIS at an older age seemed impossible as it interferes with everything, however it is something that I wanted. There are so many people at my age who have credits from back in their twenties, or from different schools and they aren’t sure what to do with them or think that they won’t transfer over. Well, now I have found that they can work for you. I have a friend I work with who is now going to enroll in this program because of my experience.”
Once Walsh finishes her master’s, she will pursue a career focused on helping children she feels need it the most, while also motivating others to pursue their dreams of going back to get their degree.