By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Nicole Strope loves to learn.
She proved that last week by completing her third degree from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“I can’t stop going to school,” the English language arts teacher joked.
Strope first enrolled at UNK in 2011, back when she wanted to be a therapist. The Bridgeport native liked the university’s location – not too far from home – as well as the size of the campus and community.
“The class sizes at UNK are big enough that you’re getting more of a challenge, but also small enough that you get to know your professors,” she said.
Strope received a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2014, but quickly realized “that wasn’t the right path for me.” She accepted a teaching position in Clearwater, and used another UNK program to earn her state certification.
The Transitional Certification Program provides an alternative pathway for individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher who want to become certified teachers in Nebraska. It includes a mix of online courses and field experiences, allowing participants to start working in a classroom right away.
Strope taught in Clearwater for three years, then transitioned to nearby Orchard when the two schools ended their consolidation. She’s currently in her fifth year at Creighton Public Schools, where she teaches high school English along with dual-credit courses in English composition and workplace communication.
“One of the main reasons why I decided to pursue a master’s degree was to be able to teach dual-credit courses and give my students more opportunities,” said Strope, who also serves as the assistant one act director.
She completed her first master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in 2016 and just added a second in English with a writing emphasis. She’d like to offer one more dual-credit class in the future, giving her students another option that counts toward a high school diploma and college degree.
By continuing her own education and learning alongside her students, Strope believes she’s become a better teacher.
“I’ve gained insight into new research and new methods, and discovered things that work well with writing and literature that I can bring back to my classroom,” she said. “It’s also allowed me to stay up to date with my writing and reading skills.”
Because both UNK master’s programs are offered entirely online, Strope was able to continue working full time while taking classes at her own pace. That flexibility is especially important when you’re raising three young children.
“Even though the programs were online, there was still a high level of interaction with professors,” Strope said. “It went beyond regular discussion boards, allowing you to truly communicate with them. I’ve had colleagues do online studies from other places and, from my conversations with them, they didn’t feel as connected as I felt in my classes. I credit the professors for making those connections.”
Strope deserves a lot of credit, too. Her oldest son Boe, 6, was born right before she graduated with her first master’s degree, and her second son Coy, 4, arrived as she was preparing to start her second master’s. Daughter Lea, 2, was born in summer 2020.
Her husband Shane, a farmer/rancher, and all three children were in the audience Friday when Strope received her latest degree during UNK’s winter commencement.
“I think I’m more excited for this one than I have been for the previous ones, just because I’ve had a growing family and extracurriculars at school and I still managed to do really well. That makes this accomplishment that much sweeter,” said Strope, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA.
Although it’s likely her last degree – “I won’t say for sure, but that’s the plan,” she said – Strope knows she’ll continue benefiting throughout her career.
“To be honest, without my degrees from UNK, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. “I owe a lot of that to the education and flexibility UNK has given me.”