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Not many students return to school for an advanced degree with plans to remain in their current role, but Shawn Harrel’s job is far from ordinary.

Harrel teaches Digital Media Technology at Summit Technology Academy, a career-focused school in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District where juniors and seniors spend half of their school day. Students must apply to the program and need a 2.5 GPA, letters of recommendation, and strong essays to be considered.

Harrel’s hands-on course focuses on the ins and outs of audio and video production. Students learn to work in teams to integrate music, graphics, and video technologies for projects in their communities.

“The class I teach is constantly changing due to improved technology so it will always be fresh,” he said. “It’s exciting to prepare students for careers and employment. We do a lot of real-world, project-based learning, and that always keeps the job interesting.”

This is far from the typical teaching job, but Harrel feels right at home.

“[It’s] a dream come true to teach here,” Harrel said. “I am really working in a perfect job that I have no intention of leaving any time soon.”

So why did Harrel decide to enroll in Baker’s Doctor of Education in Instructional Design and Performance Technology (EdD in IDPT) program?

“I’m eager to expand my knowledge to improve on the content I’m currently teaching,” he said. “I hope to make a bigger impact with an EdD—for students in my class, in the district as a whole, and beyond.”

Although Harrel’s decision to pursue a doctorate was driven internally, a teaching award prompted him to think about his future in education. In 2018, he was honored with an Excellence in Teaching award from his school district. Teachers who win this award are also nominated for Teacher of the Year.

“This honor acted as a bit of a turning point for me, as I could step back and feel like I was doing well in the classroom, and I could look beyond what I’m currently doing to the next level of education by pursing the EdD in IDPT,” he said.

Harrel’s wife, Jamie, was also honored with an Excellence in Teaching award that year. She teaches first grade in the Lee’s Summit district and is also Baker built. She earned her Master of Arts in Education in 2016 and is the best teacher Harrel knows.

The experience of Harrel’s wife during her master’s program made Baker the natural choice for his doctoral degree. He was also drawn to Baker’s EdD program because of the flexible schedule and program recognition.

“Baker is recognized as a leader in EdD, and many of my favorite administrators and bosses have their degrees from Baker as well,” Harrel said. “I wanted to make sure I had a degree from a recognized university with a track record of quality doctoral students.”

While Harrel is only a year into the program, he said he can already attest to the relevancy of the course work.

“The key feature of the course work I’ve done so far is that all of it is immediately relevant to my teaching job,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t seem relevant on the surface, it’s really easy to approach everything with the mindset of ‘how can I make this relevant to me and the students I teach?’ Because of that, I find I’m already changing my teaching practice and making improvements in the content I create for my students’ learning.”

One of the aspects of the program Harrel appreciates most has been expanding his professional network by getting to know professors and classmates.

“This will be a growing and useful resource as I continue in the program,” he said. “I’m looking forward to my field experience, and I’m certain that will be an opportunity to expand my network and broaden my experience.”

While managing a job and schoolwork is challenging enough, Harrel has managed to squeeze in a few more responsibilities. He’s a radio announcer for KCUR 89.3. He works as a part-time video editor and producer for the school district, and in the fall, he serves as an adjunct instructor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, teaching instrumental arranging. He also coordinates the electronic music composition contest for the Missouri Music Educators Association.

Adding course work and research for a doctoral degree? No problem.

“I’ve always kept busy, even without pursuing this degree,” said Harrel. “I’ll be more cautious about my extra-duty work in the future. It really does help that everything I’m working on is applicable to my job, so it just feels like I’m getting better at work the more that I learn.”

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