Chantell Robinson was on a mission.
Determined to follow her passion for working with the Deaf and H/Hearing Community, she did her homework — exploring options to earn her Master of Education degree.
There were plenty of programs to choose from, from campus-based study in Jamaica to online MEd degrees offered by institutions around the globe.
Following the Signs
Chantell had graduated from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica, where she earned her bachelor of arts degree In Dance Education. During her final year of study, she approached her lecturer with the possibility of conducting her teaching practicum at a school for the Deaf and H/Hearing. “I had an interest in developing my sign language skills, which I was taking classes for at the time,” says Chantell.
This would mark the first time a student at the college’s School of Dance would do their teaching practicum at a special needs school, so the experience was new for everybody. “I wanted to work with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in whatever capacity possible,” she recalls.
Long fascinated by the importance of the performing arts to special needs students, Chantell says, “you realize that there’s a huge connection there, and to not bridge that gap is unfortunate because Drama, Music, Visual Arts and Dance really connect well with special needs students.”
For one of her lessons, Chantell invited a drummer to conduct a session with the students. In addition, she provided them with the opportunity to watch a dance performance at the Edna Manley College — experiences that not only inspired her students but dispelled “the myth that music and rhythm have no connection with Deaf and Hard of hearing students.”
This experience stoked her passion for teaching, especially students with special needs. During her post-graduation job search, she received an unexpected call from the executive director of the Jamaica Association for the Deaf.
The organization, in partnership with Deaf Kidz International and Laureus Sport for Good, had just launched a three-year project called Signing Safe Futures Jamaica. The project aimed to use dance, martial arts and gender-based violence awareness to reduce gender-based violence in the Deaf community. Chantell became their new project manager.
She also worked collaboratively with the Jamaica Association for the Deaf and The Edna Manley College to help facilitate the enrollment of three Deaf and Hard of Hearing students into her alma mater.
After a year on the job, Chantell decided it was time to earn her master’s degree while continuing her work with the Jamaica Association for the Deaf.
Discovering the University of San Diego
To say that Chantell was diligent in her research for the ideal master’s degree program would be an understatement.
“I spent about 8 months or probably close to a year researching schools,” says Chantell. “I knew I wanted to do my degree in Special Education because, not only was I interested in working with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, I knew there was a demand for special educators in Jamaica. The government has been assiduous in ensuring that students with special needs have equal access to education. I knew the demand was there, so I was certain that is what I wanted to study.”
“I was looking for something intensive, something really comprehensive. I think I researched the top 10 most innovative Special Education master’s degrees programs,” she says, noting that the University of San Diego kept popping up in her research. “I kept going back to USD. The program was what really attracted me to the school.”
In her early interactions with USD, Chantell says she was incredibly pleased with how easy it was to acquire information. “Leading up to even submitting my application, I was so well supported. No question was ever left unanswered.” She also appreciated the opportunity to talk through all of her questions during a helpful Skype video call with an enrollment advisor.
Chantell Robinson, MEd
Her Master of Education academic experience at USD was also overwhelmingly positive.
“I thought that the courses were demanding, intensive and comprehensive, and that’s what I was looking for. I wanted something that was challenging,” says Chantell, adding, “I always felt supported by the lecturers.”
As an online graduate student, she says, “I did not miss the face to face. I loved the flexibility of online learning, especially while having a full-time job, but there are also deadlines that you have to meet.” Chantell focused her studies on Special Education and Universal Design (UDL), one of five specializations with the USD MEd program.
She also enjoyed the camaraderie of the MEd community at USD. “My learning was augmented through the interaction with my fellow students, because a lot of them had so much more experience in special education than I had. I was able to learn about how to really create an innovative and inclusive classroom from my interaction with them because they were currently working as teachers.” Chantell graduated with her MEd in August 2020.
Chantell Robinson, College Lecturer
Today, Chantell works as an Assistant Lecturer in the Special Education Department at the Mico University College, where she teaches both Special Education students and the general population. Established in 1836, the Mico is the oldest teacher-training institution in the Western Hemisphere.
Her first semester was “challenging” — mainly because she did not start her new job until part way through the semester, but also because of the adjustment to teaching virtually from her home.
“So it was kind of like being thrown into the deep end. It was definitely an intense immersion into the job,” says Chantell, who was excited to begin her second semester at the time of this interview. “I learned so much from my first term. I’m so much more prepared and I feel truly supported by my department.”
She credits her experience in the USD Master of Education program with helping to prepare her for her new role as a university lecturer, whether physical or virtual, and with expanding her skills and confidence as an educator.
Before attending USD, “I never saw myself as a lecturer. I didn’t think that I was capable of any accomplishment at that level,” says Chantell. “So just being in this job is expanding what I thought I was capable of, and I don’t think I would have been prepared to take on this position if it wasn’t for the holistic experience I gained from studying at USD.”