By Curt Yeomans
Three Clayton State University students were feted by school officials with a small party, on Wednesday, for becoming the first students to reach the final stage of the school's master of arts in teaching (MAT) degree program.
With only their final exams left, Clayton State students, Jenny Curlee, Nick Cushnie, and Matt Smith, are scheduled to complete their studies as classes wrap up this week. In other words, Curlee, Cushnie, and Smith are close to making Clayton State history, and becoming the first people to earn master's-level teaching degrees from the university.
Since Clayton State does not have a summer commencement ceremony, the trio will be recognized during the school's fall commencement ceremony, in the winter, MAT program officials announced during the party. The officials also told the pupils they should receive their Georgia Professional Standards Commission certification within a couple of weeks of completing their course work.
"We're really happy for them, and their accomplishments," said MAT Education Coordinator Shayla Mitchell. "To see a program get started, and then graduate its first students, is a big accomplishment for the university, and we take a lot of pride in that."
The university established the MAT degree, with tracks in English education, and mathematics education in 2009. The first classes for the degree program began during the summer of 2009, said Clayton State Department of Teacher Education Chairperson Ruth Caillouet. She added that the program is designed to be completed in four months.
Prospective MAT students must already have an undergraduate degree in the subject they plan to teach before they enter the program, Caillouet said.
"We had a little fear about starting the program at a time when teachers were being laid off, but we have to have some faith that things will begin to turn around, and teachers will be needed again," Caillouet said.
Two of the three honorees attended the celebration in their honor. Smith, who took the mathematics education track, was at work, and could not attend the event, according to Mitchell. Cushnie and Curlee, who did attend, did not play up their roles as history-making Clayton State students, during the party.
But, both said they did like the feeling of being the first pupils to reach this stage in the program. "Right now it feels good," said Cushnie, 42, who took the mathematics education track. "I didn't realize the historical significance, though, until recently. I actually thought the program had been around longer than it has."
Cushnie, a Peachtree City resident, said he has accepted a job teaching high school math, near his childhood hometown, in Hawaii.
Sharpsburg resident, Curlee, 26, is the only person expected to complete the English education track this summer. Caillouet said two other English track students are scheduled to finish the program in the fall.
Curlee said the fact that she is being looked upon as the first person to likely finish the English track is "nice" and "very different. I've never been the only one to do something before. I'm just glad I did it." Curlee said she studied to become a high school English teacher. She added that she is still looking for a teaching job, and is willing to take a job wherever one is available.
Curlee added she is not concerned about the recent trend of school systems laying off teachers, because of budget cuts. "Somewhere, teachers are needed, so I'm OK with going somewhere else to find a job," she said.
But, as the party for the expected first MAT graduates wrapped up, the reality for students -- otherwise known as final exams -- beckoned.
"I need to go study for my final exam now, otherwise I will not be completing my degree this summer," Cushnie said.