A family of lifelong learners

Mother, daughter follow nontraditional path to master’s degrees

Ann-and-Jacqueline-Frake

By Bonnie Blankinship

It takes a lot of courage to go back to school when you already consider yourself “the least likely to succeed,” as Ann Frake once did. But succeed she did, and now has received her degree through the Online Master of Arts in English program, with a specialization in Language Arts Teaching, at the Dec. 20 commencement exercises.

Compounding her happiness — two years and one semester later — she graduated with her daughter Jacqueline Frake Davis, who also graduated with a master’s degree, in educational administration and supervision.

This has been an exceptionally busy fall for the Frakes, with not only Ann and Jacqueline working toward their degrees but Jacqueline’s October wedding to Falcon Flame Garrett Davis, who graduated with a degree in biology in May.

Jacqueline, who teaches Spanish at Wayne Trace High School in Havilland, Ohio, said it was very helpful going through her own master’s degree program alongside her mother. “She’d be in her room working and I’d be in mine. She would remind me, ‘Don’t forget to do your assignment,’ and if she were struggling with something I’d say, ‘Come on now, we have to power through it.’

“I mean, how many people get to work with their mothers?” she said. “She’s a great act, and I really appreciated having her through this whole process. And it’s good to see her in her new job and just really enjoying it.”

Though her husband and daughters were helpful and supportive, Frake described balancing work, family and college commitments as “like a plate-spinning act! I go from one thing to the next as fast as I can and then I start all over again.”

Now, with her degree completed, Ann can focus on her new job at Northwest State Community College in Archbold, Ohio, teaching composition, and continue to write and publish children’s stories as part of her longtime work as a curriculum writer. “I also have some ideas for some magazine articles,” she said. “Thanks, BGSU, for creating a program where I could succeed!”

Frake was pleased to find a job so readily, she said. Northwest State needed teachers who have a degree in writing — “another kudos for the program.”

“I anticipate teaching and creating children’s literature during the next 20 years until my official retirement at age 72,” Frake said. “I hope to continue freelance writing for another 20 years beyond that.”

For Jacqueline, however, the studying goes on. Although she completed her master’s program in August, she almost immediately began taking additional summer courses on campus at BGSU toward her principal licensure and is pursuing coursework that leads to a specialized license in curriculum, instruction and professional development. She decided to wait until December to officially graduate so that she could walk with her mother.

Jacqueline saw her studies come full circle last summer when she took a group of her high school students and their parents to Alcalá de Henares, Spain, where she had lived as an undergraduate. “I took them to the places I had studied and to visit my host family,” she recalled. “I even saw my former faculty members there!”

It was at Jacqueline’s undergraduate graduation, with a degree in Spanish, that Ann first began to think of resuming her education. She had received her bachelor’s degree in English from Northern Illinois University over 30 years ago.

She wrote in an essay about her journey to BGSU:

“I am almost 50 years old and dreaming of going back to school as I sit through my daughter’s 2008 BGSU graduation. My academic skills are rusty; my laptop is from the pawn shop and our budget tight with another daughter still in college.”

And yet, “School seemed like a happy challenge, again, and I was afraid that if I didn’t do it now, I would never do it.”

Her hopes were nearly dashed when she approached a nearby private college. “They assess my 25-year-old BA and require 67 hours of undergraduate work and 18 hours of graduate classes at the cost of $35,510 in tuition over four years. This does not factor in missing work for day classes or the commute,” she wrote.

“I’ve already taken many of the classes required but they will not modify the undergraduate work. There is very little documentation after 25 years to help defend my undergraduate class content. My university professors are all gone and class syllabuses on file were not written with current Ohio state standards in mind. I begin to shop other schools and programs.”

Luckily, Frake found Bowling Green State University’s online graduate program in English. “They are willing to take a chance on me,” she wrote, adding that Mary Ann Sweeney, then the secretary for the program, was especially helpful in considering her options and gave her the confidence to get started, in 2011. Frake considered the Master of Fine Arts writing program, but wanted to teach at a community college and felt the Master of Arts in English for language arts teachers would help her the most.

She wrote then, “I am elated to find that I can do the classes online and still work. This substantially reduces the tuition costs of my degree to less than $15,000. The ’99 Passat that I drive is no longer an issue. I am so happy to be a part of this program.”

Likewise, Jacqueline was thankful for the cohort program in educational administration and supervision that allowed her to take blended classes that included online and face-to-face meetings with her cohort members. “That was the only reason I was able to make it work, and I so appreciated the local setting,” she said. “It was a phenomenal program and Dr. William Ingle (an associate professor of educational foundations, leadership and policy studies) was a phenomenal adviser.”

For her mother, the experience of being a student again, and an online one at that, posed new challenges. “Participating in my first classes, I was sometimes intimidated by the vocabulary used by my classmates but I created a glossary for myself,” she recalled. “I missed reading the body language of classmates and the instant feedback available from a teacher in a classroom but I did not miss driving to evening classes in the middle of an Ohio winter. My teachers were very helpful, patient and answered my e-mails promptly, and a few phone conferences helped, too.

“Plus I established many friends for peer support and coursework advice on Discussion Board. Quite a few gave me encouraging words and advice. I appreciated the extra effort that they extended in my behalf.”  

In fact, one of the best things about her return to college was that “the friends I’ve made in classes have been exceptionally supportive and helpful. I also found that I was able to add a special Graduate Certificate in International Scientific and Technical Communication that would help me in a job search, with only four classes that were already part of our curriculum.”

And despite the competing demands of home, work and school, she was actually able to do better academically the second time around. “A husband of 30 years is a little bit less of a distraction than a brand new fiancé,” she noted, since “falling in love and planning a wedding was such a diversion from my academic focus back then”  — a situation to which Jacqueline can relate.

Technology, though, could pose a problem: “I had one laptop fry in the middle of a project. I had to scramble to find a loaner for a few weeks.”

But it was only a temporary problem, she said, and she would recommend the online program “absolutely, especially for nontraditional students who can work independently.”

Her advice for those nontraditional students thinking about going back to college?  “Do it. Don’t panic. Most online technical problems I had were fixed in a few minutes by friends and family and once you see the ‘fix’ you think, I could do that. What a confidence builder!”