After a decade as an adjunct faculty member at Eastern Washington University, Berenice Emehiser was ready to soar to new heights.
“I’d had a quarterly contract for around 10 years,” she said. “It finally dawned on me that if I didn’t get a master’s degree, I was going to have a quarterly contract with adjunct level of pay forever. I realized if I wanted to advance in any way at all, I needed to get a master’s degree.”
Emehiser graduated from EWU with a Master of Education in Adult Education in 2016. She was able to become a full-time lecturer that same year. Twenty-seven years earlier, Emehiser graduated from EWU with a Bachelor of Science in Physics.
“One of my former instructors called about a donation to the alumni association,” she explained. “It turned out the university needed somebody to teach labs. He asked if I would be interested. I ended up accepting the offer.
“I worked really hard to come up to speed so I could teach effectively. So, I taught labs for a few years. Then, they hired an instructor who quit after four weeks. Shortly after that I started teaching some of the lecture classes.”
Emehiser, who also taught an online physics course at Spokane Falls Community College, enhanced her teaching skills with the knowledge from the M.Ed. in Adult Education curriculum.
“It gave me a lot more confidence,” she said. “We looked at a lot of different teaching styles. More and more teachers are using PowerPoint and various technologies in the classroom.
“Sometimes when you’re teaching, you wonder, ‘Oh, boy. Is what I’m doing totally antiquated?’ I lecture, and I use a lot of class dialogue and engage the class. After taking those various classes on different teaching methods, I feel like what I’m doing is a really good, effective way to teach.”
Emehiser also learned various methods to maintain the attention of her students in a classroom setting.
“It encouraged me to have more class dialogue because that engages the class,” she said. “And just little details … like how to keep people’s attention instead of letting it wander, and learning that every 15 minutes, people are going to drift away if you don’t do something to get their attention. Even things as simple as walking back and forth across the class, asking questions, looking students in the eye, getting feedback.”
The course COIN 581: Workshop in College Teaching gave Emehiser a valuable tool she put to good use.
“We were supposed to design a course curriculum,” she said. “One of the classes I teach is for people who are going to be K-8 teachers. I’d always thought that it would be nice to have that class really laid out in detail and have all of these activities picked out for it, but it’s a lot of work to put that together.
Of course, she also learned a lot from her future colleagues.
“I had the same instructor [Dr. Vince Aleccia] for a lot of classes,” Emehiser said. “He was a fantastic teacher. I learned so much from him. There were similar things every single quarter in his classes. We gave presentations, because if you’re going to teach, you’re going to be giving presentations and you’re going to practice giving those presentations. That was really great.”
She also enjoyed EDUC 538: Media Literacy for Teachers, the course she took with Gar Springberry, a 2014 graduate of the M.Ed. in Adult Education program.
“That was one of the best classes, too,” Emehiser said. “At first, I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I’ll learn how to use the technology.’ His course was basically how to do effective presentations. He did a fantastic job teaching it. Even things that seemed minor were all related to the overall theme of what he was trying to teach. It was really impressive.”
In a bit of foreshadowing, Emehiser was inspired to go into physics by a teacher.
“My high school physics teacher was encouraging and said, ‘Oh, you ought to get a physics degree,'” she said. “I didn’t have much in the way of various advisers. I just had an enthusiastic high school physics teacher.”
She worked for the Electric Power Research Institute for a few years before her unexpected foray into teaching.
“They [EPRI] pretty much hired me because they figured if I could get a physics degree, I could pretty much figure out whatever they wanted to do,” Emehiser said. “In a way, the ability to look at problems and figure out solutions is, of course, useful for everything in life.”
She fell in love with teaching after a somewhat inauspicious beginning.
“It took a little bit,” Emehiser said. “When I first started teaching, it was that deer-in-the-headlights experience every time I walked into the classroom. Now, I really like it. In some of my classes, I have pre-med and physical therapy students. I absolutely love those students. They’re so focused.”
EWU extends to Emehiser’s life at home, too. Her three sons — Ray (24), Bruce (22) and Ben (19) — graduated from or currently attend the university. Her daughter, Jane (18), began the Running Start program at EWU in Fall 2017.
“My whole philosophy on kids going to college is to not really give them an option,” she said. “If the college offers what they want, why on earth would you spend a fortune going someplace far away when you could go somewhere close to home for a whole lot less?”
Her children participated in Washington’s Running Start program at Eastern. One of her sons is in graduate school, while another is applying for graduate school.
“As I went through the master’s program, I think it had a positive impact on them,” Emehiser said. “I could definitely tell my kids, ‘Right now is the time to get your graduate degree. You don’t want to wait until after you have responsibilities and a house, and a family, and a job and everything else.’ I think I’ve made that point pretty well.”
After she got the result she was looking for with the master’s, Emehiser would encourage most anybody to earn a degree as soon as possible.
“As a college instructor, generally, my viewpoint has been that you can improve your life by going back to school,” she said.
Learn about the EWU online M.Ed. in Adult Education program.