UVA Wise Celebrates First Master in Education Degree Graduates

Student shaking hands after receiving graduate regalia.

When alumnus Jacob Sowers sought to obtain his master’s degree, he knew he wanted to return to his alma mater, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise).

Originally from Bassett, Va., Sowers received his Bachelor’s Degree in History from UVA Wise and taught government and political science at Franklin County High School. 

“I knew I wanted to come back to Wise. I really missed it. When I was picking a graduate program, UVA Wise was always the front runner because I knew how involved professors got and the high quality of education I would receive,” Sowers said.

Last Saturday, 14 students made history as they walked across the stage at David J. Prior Convocation Center to become the first graduates of UVA Wise’s Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program. 

The graduates included Greyson Arlis Landry Baker, Big Stone Gap, Va.; Carlie Clark Tomlinson, Norton, Va.;  Katelyn Marie Cline, Portsmouth, Va.; Connie Merie Edwards, Haysi, Va.; Kristin Marie Gobbi, Amagansett, NY.; Noah Zachary Hall, Wise; Leah Madison Kestner, Chilhowie, Va.; Reba Jean Kindle, Gate City, Va.; Kara Grace Long, Lebanon, Va.; Grant Thomas Quinn, Kingsport, Tenn.; Carleigh Ray, Wise, Va.; Alyssa Lauren Shell, Wise, Va.; Jacob Tyler Sowers; and Tyler Delano Warner, Norton, Va.

As part of their commencement, each new graduate participated in the hooding ceremony.

“Being hooded as the first Master of Education degree candidate in the College’s history was a moment that I will never forget. As a first-generation college graduate, UVA Wise allowed me to accomplish goals that I never thought were possible,” said UVA Wise alumnus Landry Baker ’22, who after graduation will continue to teach at Union Primary School in Big Stone Gap. 

Director of Teacher Education and Professor Andy Cox hooded each of his students. 

“This is such a great moment of excitement, joy and motivation for me. It signifies the beginning of a legacy here at UVA Wise and I am honored to be a part of it.  We can continue to produce highly qualified educators who will shape the future of education in Southwest Virginia and beyond,” said Cox who helped develop the master’s program. “We are contributing to the long-term quality of education in the area which can have far reaching impacts on the socio-economic status of Wise and surrounding areas.” 

The graduation of these students marks a momentous achievement for the College and Southwest Virginia, Cox said. 

“I am overjoyed to have earned my Masters in Education from UVA Wise. It is a milestone that marks the culmination of my dedication and hard work and prepares me for my next adventure,” said Carleigh Ray who hopes to obtain her Doctorate of Education in Curriculum and Instruction. 

While pursuing her master’s degree, Ray has been working as the assistant director and Pre-Kindergarten lead at the Little Cavaliers Early Learning Center since it opened last September on the UVA Wise campus. She plans to continue working at the childcare center.

During the program, Ray updated the juvenile section of the UVA Wise library with research she had completed during one of her master’s classes. 

“The flexibility of the program was wonderful for me and fellow teachers as we work full time,” Ray said. “The professors have been fantastic whether that was giving us professional advice or giving us words of encouragement. The coursework has boosted my ability and understanding of research,” Ray said. 

Fellow master’s graduate Carlie Tomlinson ’16 taught seventh-grade civics and economics at Ridgeview Middle School and also served as the activity coordinator for the College’s Year in Wise program, while obtaining her degree.

“As a first-generation college student attending UVA Wise as an undergraduate changed my life. The support from the faculty and staff is unlike anywhere else,” said Tomlinson. 

She said when UVA Wise announced the new Master of Education program last year at least five of her former college professors reached out encouraging her to continue her education. 

“I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to everyone at UVA Wise for supporting my dream,” said Tomlinson who plans on pursuing a doctorate this fall.  

The master’s program helps future teachers learn educational research methods and their specific applications to problems in curricula and instruction. 

Additionally, the students have learned evidence-based practices in curriculum design, factors that affect student learning, assessment of student learning outcomes, instructional strategies for diverse learners, collaboration techniques that induce integrative learning and classroom management practices that promote a productive and healthy learning environment, Cox said. 

“The UVA Wise M.Ed. program equips educators with the advanced knowledge, specialized skills, and credentials needed to take on leadership roles in school districts, improve their teaching practice in classrooms, increase their salary, and ultimately advance their careers within the field of education,” Cox said. 

While working towards his master’s degree, Sowers was an assistant coach for the UVA Wise Golf team. During his time coaching for the College, the golf team broke several records and reached new heights. 

“I loved playing golf during my undergrad so I thought it would be perfect to coach here since I was coming back. We have a good group and I hope to make even more strides in the future,” said Sowers. 

Now that he’s finished, Sowers plans to continue coaching golf while looking for possible employment in the area or at UVA Wise. Sowers said, “I wanted the degree and the opportunities that came with it, I hope to give back to the place that has already given so much to me.” 

The future of UVA Wise’s Master of Education program is bright. The program is rapidly growing with 52 students registered for the summer. The College will offer the M.Ed. program with a concentration in library media in the fall. 

“I have so many people to thank for all of this coming to fruition, the College Board, our administrators, and the UVA Board of Visitors,” Cox said. “To the first graduating class, I want to say congratulations I am so proud of you, and I was truly honored to work with each of you. Now, go out there and do something great for kids.”