'I got my whole foundation from UHCL': alum's focus is STEM education, research
Monica Trevathan started her career as a math teacher in another state, but computers were always her main area of interest. There was no teaching certification possible for computer teachers in her home state, but when she moved to Houston and found University of Houston-Clear Lake, her options widened and allowed her career path to become more aligned with her desire to work with computer systems.
“Not only did I find the teaching certification in computer technology that I wanted at UH-Clear Lake, but there was also a Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology in the College of Education, so I was able to combine education and my computer background,” she said. “I finished the teaching certification and continued with my master’s degree.”
She received her master’s in 2000 and taught math for a few years, but was drawn to the instructional technology side of education. “I ended up as an instructional designer at Boeing,” she said.
“We really need good teachers, but I found out there are a lot of other options out there,” she explained. “My master’s degree really helped. There are a lot of companies out there who are looking for educators who have been in the classroom, but can apply those skills to the corporate environment. It was a big bonus on my application that I had a teaching certificate; that certainly made me more attractive to employers.”
She discovered that teaching in a corporate setting is similar to teaching in a classroom. “It doesn’t matter where you are, everyone you’re teaching has a different learning style,” she said. “I was teaching people how to use a tool, and it was helpful for me to understand that the adults were different kinds of learners, just as the kids in the classroom were.”
After her three-year contract with Boeing ended, she received a contract with the Transportation Security Administration to help train airport employees checking in baggage after security concerns became a top priority after September 11.
“My job was to audit their training and ensure the subcontractors were doing everything correctly,” she said. “After that contract wound down, I was back in the Clear Lake area, trying to figure out what to do next. I found a small business called Tietronix Software which had received a NASA contract that supported a space education and life sciences group, and that’s where I returned to my passion for STEM education.”
Trevathan said this was the best job she could imagine. “This is what I wanted to do—support education outreach for space life sciences with a K-12 focus. I had that role for 13 years and it was amazing. I worked with engineers and subject matter experts creating educational materials and the big bonus for me was that I had that master’s degree from UHCL,” she said. “We developed the educational materials for the classroom based on NASA content, and then went out and trained the teachers to use the content.”
She got more than a great job there. Tietronix is also where she began partnering with (Professor of Literacy, Library Science and Learning Technology) Jana Willis, writing grants to get education-based products funded.
“I was getting very heavily into doing research for those grants that showed that technology actually works to engage students,” Trevathan said. “We designed our studies to have research results. And I said, it sounds like I’m getting a doctorate! It wasn’t hard for Dr. Willis to convince me to get enrolled into the doctoral program.”
UHCL’s Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with Focus in STEM was brand new at that time, and Trevathan became part of its first cohort. “It felt attainable to get that doctorate, because of the research I was already doing,” she said. “It was just a matter of getting it structured. I said, I think I can do it—I’m already doing it!”
She added that while working on her doctorate, she also got certified as a program evaluator—a helpful enhancement to her degree. “People funding grants want to know that an external evaluator has completed an evaluation to determine that the dollars are being spent well,” she said.
She crossed the stage with her doctorate in 2018, just as her contract with Tietronix was closing. By the time she graduated, she had a lot of good contacts and decided to start her own consulting company. “It’s called Curriculum and Instruction Services, located in Dickinson,” she said. “I got my whole foundation from UHCL. I have a doctorate in education, but I don’t work in a school or a classroom. But, I work with people who are, and with STEM-focused nonprofits.”
She’s found that a doctorate in education is not necessarily just for educators. “You can be very helpful on the state or federal level,” she said.
“If you’ve been in the classroom, it’s useful for working with school If you have new products, teachers ask how we know what they need. And the answer is, we know because we’ve been there,” she said. “Research in education is needed, but you have to find the funding for it, and that’s when you partner with others that are looking for those products.”
For more information about UHCL’s Education Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, go online.