Ten years ago, Brenda McCall, a lifelong equestrian and riding instructor, had no inkling she'd be on a path to an online masters in special education, much less a doctorate.
She had dropped out of a college program after nearly two years, after she discovered how unaffordable her early aspiration of veterinary school was.
"I really thought that was the route I was going to go," says Brenda, now 49.
"With the logistics of work and school, it just wasn't going to be a reality. I ended up being a professional trainer, showing horses, breeding horses, and all of that kind of thing."
She still loves riding, and has her own stable, but is finally going to graduate next month from Texas Tech University with her bachelors degree.
Weeks after walking the stage for her diploma, she will hit the books again, continuing on for her online masters in special education.
"I'm on a roll, and I just didn't want to take any time off," she says.
Brenda is one of three winners of the Get Educated $1,000 scholarship for online college students.
The twice-yearly award will help Brenda pay for some of her online masters in special education during her upcoming semester.
Right now, Brenda's motivated, after such a long break from college. She doesn't want to stop her academic study until she's finished, and that means, when she's got her doctorate.
"I really want to get my online masters, but I really, really want to go on and get my doctorate afterwards, too," she says.
"I want to keep motoring along. If I could get into teaching out of a university, that would be a great thing."
Difficult to Juggle Getting a College Degree and Work
Growing up, Brenda didn't expect her family would pay for her degree. "If I had to go to college, I was going to have to do it myself," she says.
Back before she was able to attend classes online, working and also going to college full-time was nearly impossible for her.
"To go to class was so difficult," she says. "To work and try to go class was impossible. I had to work, and I had to drop out of school to try and keep up with things. I just couldn't do both," she says.
After nearly two years in college as an undergraduate, she dropped out of school and went to work full-time with horses.
Life Event Leads to New Focus on Education
Years later, she found herself living in West Virginia, and running a busy farm with 50 stalls. She was proud of what she'd accomplished, but she and her husband found themselves working nonstop. "You worked 7 days a week, you worked all the time," she recalls.
When her mother passed away back home in 2004, Brenda was forced to reassess her life. "I guess a little bit of a mid-life crisis set in; there's more to life than working 7 days a week."
She realized that she had always enjoyed her college experience, and started to think about how she could transform what she was doing into a more stable steady career path.
"I really enjoyed teaching and instructing, whether it was individuals with disabilities or able-bodied riders, doing showing and dressage," she says.
While she was visiting Texas, packing up her mother's home, she and her husband came to a conclusion: It was time to move back.
It was also time to return to college.
Online Masters in Special Education Without the Commute
Settling in Leander, Texas, Brenda took up substitute teaching in her local school district. In no time, she had plenty of work, but was still ready to go back to college.
"I went to our local community college just to get my feet wet," she said. She took one online class, and one in-person class.
"My computer skills were not like, super. At times I was like 'How am I going to do all this?'" she said.
The funny twist? She wound up liking her online class better than her classroom lectures that required her to drive to town, and share a room with 30 others in order to learn the basics of philosophy.
The annoyance of classroom learning -- and its distractions -- came flooding back.
"I would sit there and be like, 'Can you stop that!'" about the students who would tap their feet, or surf on their cell phones, instead of participating. "
"Yet, if I did my online class, I was so happy. I did my work," she said.
After that semester, she looked for fully online degree options, and found Texas Technical University.
From A Masters in Special Education to A Doctorate in Education Online
At first, Brenda took just one or two classes a semester towards her undergraduate degree, but coworkers from the school where she was a special education substitute were urging her to get her degree.
She obtained alternative licensing to teach special ed, but is truly excited to take online masters-level courses in the subject now.
"If you keep doing it, it's easy, but if you take a break for awhile, it's hard to get back into it," she says. "It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of everything," she says.
She's even more eager to start her summer semester after selecting her upcoming schedule.
"The classes I'm going to start taking for my online masters just so directly correlate with everything that I want to do as far as teaching goes."
Her plans are to one day graduate with her doctorate, and then to teach and write books about what she knows best: therapeutic horsemanship as a teaching environment for special needs and other students.
"I would like to get into classroom teaching and share that with others," she says.
Get Educated offers the $1,000 scholarship for distance learning assistance in the spring and fall in conjunction with Core4Women.
The grant can be used for any level of collegiate study, and the deadlines are March 15 and October 15 for the ongoing program. All those interested are encouraged to apply for the Get Educated Core4Women distance learning scholarship.
Online College Scholarship Resources