Graduating ASU student Mary Kate Cragg / Courtesy photo

She’s got spirit: Master teacher inspires by earning ASU degree

By

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.

In a sterling example to her students, educator Mary Kate Cragg is earning a graduate degree from Arizona State University while teaching full time. Cragg graduates with her Master of Arts in English this fall — on record pace, completing all degree requirements in just one year — and she’s doing it with straight “A”s.

The Chelsea, Massachusetts, native spent the past seven years teaching in rural Arkansas. It’s an area with a high dropout rate, so Cragg wanted to make sure her students had as many opportunities as possible. In addition to advising extracurriculars like yearbook, marching band, color guard and spirit club, she looked for ways to encourage further educational attainment.

She had already earned an MA in teaching from Southern Arkansas University, but needed additional graduate study hours in English so her school could offer dual-enrollment classes to juniors and seniors. “I then decided I might as well go for the full degree,” she said.

Cragg selected the ASU online program in English. The online format was perfect for her, offering rigor as well as the flexibility necessary to balance her many commitments.

“Especially in the fall, with football games every Friday and marching contests on Saturdays, I was very busy! It was a small school, so I got to wear a lot of different hats.”

This past summer, Cragg and her husband left rural Arkansas for urban Boston, where she began teaching first-year writing at two colleges in the area.

We caught up with Cragg as she finishes her coursework to find out what she’s planning next.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? 

Answer: I feel like my whole life was a series of "aha" moments with regard to studying English. I was an early and enthusiastic reader, and I later loved to write in imitation of my favorite authors (Vonnegut and Austen, possibly the oddest of odd couples). Majoring in English and becoming a teacher eventually became a foregone conclusion. It was then only a matter of time before I decided to pursue my MA. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: In my “Methods of Teaching Composition” class, I found out that some of my planning, grading and feedback methods were less helpful than I had thought. I really had to examine what I was doing and then adjust my practice. Since this revelation, I am much more intentional with my teaching, and I feel more effective as a result.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU offered a flexible program with tons of options and support that many schools do not make available to online students. As a full-time teacher with varied interests and specific needs, those options were so valuable to me. I was able to take courses I actually wanted and focus on topics relevant to my professional and academic goals.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: It's not necessarily a lesson, but the two courses I took with Gregory Castle taught me perseverance and helped me improve my writing. I'd also like to recognize Claudia Sadowski-Smith and her “Magical Realism” course, which introduced me to some of my new favorite literary and critical voices.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Persist. College and grad school can be stressful and overwhelming sometimes, but it is so worth it to push through. The feeling of accomplishment when you finish a course — or even just a difficult assignment — is incredible.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My campus was my couch! I think my Labrador, Remi, deserves an honorary degree for all the papers she helped me write!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am currently an adjunct, teaching at two colleges in the Boston area. I will continue with that for a while before I make the (probably inevitable) decision to get my PhD.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Equity and accessibility in education. My time teaching in both secondary and higher education has shown me that access to quality education can be the first step in solving so many of the other problems in the world. I'd like to eliminate the racial, socioeconomic and gender biases that limit access to educational institutions.