Going through a dark personal situation helped Leah Ham see the light in her career.
After 20 years as a teacher, the Kilgore, Texas, native wanted to return to college for a master’s degree, but she didn’t know whether to concentrate on administration or counseling.
“I had an experience with a counselor during family counseling while going through a divorce,” Ham said. “That lit a fire under me, and that’s why I started. I want to stay in education but take a little different route.”
Ham recently completed Lamar University’s Master of Education in School Counseling online program. She traveled to Beaumont to walk the graduation stage on May 12, 2018. Her new husband, Dave, was there to cheer her on.
“This degree has already opened up new opportunities for me,” she said. “I’ve just been hired as a school counselor at Sabine Middle School. They’re also the Cardinals, so maybe it’s meant to be!”
Ham, who attended Kilgore College for two years and earned a bachelor’s degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1997, taught seventh and eighth grade at Kilgore Middle School before landing her brand new job. She has also taught in the Klein and Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School Districts in the Houston area.
“I have lots of family members who are teachers,” Ham said. “After I got out of elementary school, my mother, Alice Lowery, went back to work and taught at Kilgore High School for 20 years. There was the family interest in teaching, but I also liked working with children. Helping others was always a passion of mine.”
Ham already knew quite a bit about Lamar University because her ex-husband earned a master’s degree in administration at the school.
“Lamar had someone who came and visited our campus around the same time I was having that counseling experience,” she said. “I went and visited with them. Lamar University had a lot of things I wanted, and the flexibility and the cost were both good.
“They were offering a little bit of an incentive, like a scholarship, at the time that I enrolled. Plus, it was online and sounded like it would be something I could work around my job. It’s nice to be able to do schoolwork whenever you can.”
That flexibility was especially important to Ham with three daughters at home — Rylie (17), Kamryn (13) and Amy Beth (6).
“It’s balanced out pretty well,” Ham said. “Some classes are a little bit more intense than others, but I have been able to manage it. It definitely takes some time to do, but it wasn’t too bad. I spent about 15 hours per week on school.”
Although the courses are geared toward counseling, quite a bit of the information in the online M.Ed. in School Counseling curriculum was applicable to Ham’s current job in the classroom.
“Teachers wear many hats,” she said. “It brought back some things I learned going through education courses at SFA, helping others and listening. Sometime we get so caught up in what’s going on that we need to take the time to listen to others. It’s amazing what you can pick up from relationships in either role.”
All Support Systems Go
Although Ham enjoyed the online format, one of her favorite courses in the program was CNDV 5380: Seminar Counseling & Development, a one-week residency on campus required in the M.Ed. in School Counseling online program.
“The reason I enjoyed it so much, besides the fact that we were with our peers and were practicing everything we had been reading about, was that the experience was so great,” she said. “It was my first chance to interact with anyone.
“Even though I chose the program because it was online and for the flexibility, I walked away with some friendships that through this past year really helped me get through the program as a support system. That’s been really nice. We are going to meet up at graduation and all walk.”
Ham also got lots of support at home and from her circle of friends.
“They were all encouraging — every single one of them,” she said. “They knew that I had been thinking about it for quite some time. When I chose to start a family, it was put on the backburner.”
Although it was Ham’s first experience with any online courses, she had a great experience and had no trouble adjusting to the format.
“I had absolutely zero problems,” she said. “We did the webinars weekly and lots of videos. It wasn’t anything I had any difficult with. I’m pleased. The professors are always accessible. I would definitely make use of their apps that are available. That made it easier to access everything I do. You have to be able to manage your time. If you can do that, anything is possible.”
Although it wasn’t the most pleasant of circumstances that led to Ham’s decision to earn a master’s degree in school counseling, she knows that she is on the right path for the rest of her career. Ham is also the first person in her immediate family to earn a graduate degree, although her accomplishment might lead to a few more advanced degrees within the family down the road.
“My oldest is taking some online classes for dual credit at Kilgore College,” she said. “They use the same Blackboard program we have at Lamar, so we have some things we can talk about. It’s funny — the similarities.”
Now that Ham has completed her master’s program, she is enjoying the new extended free time.
“I will get back to spending more time with my children,” she said. “We like to do anything outdoors. Rylie and Kamryn are both active in sports at their schools. Amy Beth has piano and dance lessons. I love bicycling, walking, playing games and water sports. I’m looking forward to some time off to enjoy all of those.”
Blue skies again.
Learn more about the Lamar University online M.Ed. in School Counseling program.