MAESL Degree Leads to Alaskan Adventure Think you have a tough commute? Imagine taking three flights in an eight-seat twin-engine plane, boarding a midnight ferry, then trekking down a stretch of road with suitcase in tow—just to get to work. As a mentor to new teachers in Alaska, Liz Will regularly visits remote, off-the-grid communities. For the Hamline MAESL graduate and adjunct instructor, every day on the job is an adventure. Will’s amazing journey began after college, when she set out to travel the world. While exploring Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa, she quickly discovered what it’s like to be the “other” in someone else’s culture, she said. That experience would shape her career. Eventually, Will’s travels led her to Alaska, where she earned a teaching certificate from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, then taught at a public high school for more than twenty years. During that time, she enrolled in Hamline’s MAESL program and took classes online. In her Hamline capstone, or final project, Will wrote: “Teaching social studies and French gave me the opportunity to highlight the concepts of social justice and equality, acceptance between different groups, and the importance of cross-cultural communication. “Now twenty-four years later,” she added, “these same ideals continue to motivate me as I begin a new career.” Non-Traditional Route Will, a Minneapolis native, chose Hamline University for its online offerings. “I was a non-traditional distance student,” she said. “Non-traditional because I was older and because I did my whole program online. I had been a teacher for quite a long time, so I wanted a program that would engage me and that I could learn from. Hamline did that. It has quality teachers, good classes, and a rigorous program.” Will earned her Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate at Hamline, then went on to complete her MAESL degree in 2010. After that, she taught ESL at an elementary school in Sitka, Alaska, for a semester. In her current position with the Alaska Statewide Mentor Project, Will travels the state providing support to new teachers and conducting research. The first years of teaching can be challenging, Will pointed out. In Alaska, where many schools are located in the “bush”—isolated areas accessible only by plane, boat, dog sled, or all-terrain vehicle—teacher turnover is as high as 85 percent in some schools, according to the Alaska Statewide Mentor Project. Will likes to think of herself and the other mentors who travel deep into the Alaskan interior as “warriors for education” fighting to make a difference for both teachers and students. Blazing Her Own Path Although Will doesn’t currently teach ESL, that doesn’t mean she’s not using her Hamline degree. “A lot of what I do relates to what I did as a student at Hamline because it’s based on teaching strategies,” Will said. “I might work with a math teacher or a kindergarten teacher, but it’s all about engaging students, some of whom might be second language learners.” Currently, Will is the only mentor in the program who has an ESL degree, she said, so she provides a resource for teachers in the state who are working with ESL students. Every day, Will uses the knowledge and skills she developed at Hamline, she said. “I’m a better writer, a better researcher, and probably a better critical thinker because I did the Hamline program.” “I’ve recommended Hamline to so many people,” she said. “It gave me the confidence and energy to pursue another career.” Where her Hamline degree will take her next, Will doesn’t know. But one thing is certain: She looks forward to the adventure.