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Tips on Becoming a Virtual Volunteer


Volunteers are an essential part of any community. But what happens when you want to give back, but don’t know where to start? Maybe the organization you are interested in is far away or there aren’t a lot of volunteer opportunities in your town—what happens then?

Thanks to the rise of virtual volunteering, time and place no longer dictate whether or not you can give back. As long as you have access to the Internet and a computer, you can find a way to volunteer.

Finding Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

It wouldn’t be much of a virtual volunteering opportunity if you couldn’t find it online! Thanks to websites like, the Web’s largest volunteer engagement network, you can search for volunteer opportunities anywhere and from wherever you are.

“When we launched VolunteerMatch, we were very interested in using the power of the Internet to not only create brick-and-mortar relationships, but also to unlock the potential of new relationships between good people and good causes that would no longer be dependent on proximity and region,” explains Robert Rosenthal, vice president of communications and marketing at VolunteerMatch.

While the bulk of the 80,000+ volunteer opportunities listed on the site at any given time include an actual brick-and-mortar location, there is a small chunk dedicated solely to virtual volunteer opportunities.

“Virtual volunteering opportunities, or those that can be accomplished from virtually anywhere, typically make up about five percent of the overall number of volunteer listings posted by nonprofits at,” reveals Rosenthal. “They remain a popular way for people to get involved and contribute from anywhere.”

Virtual Volunteering Snapshot

So what do these virtual volunteer opportunities look like?

A search on turned up 4,386 virtual volunteer opportunities. Needs ranged from tutors and peer mentors, to writers and web developers. There are options for people who want to serve as advocates in education, those who can serve as helpline volunteers for at-risk individuals, and those who can jumpstart online fundraisers for a good cause. There are even some options for those of you who can knit or sew!

All that’s required is a computer, a needed skill set, and the desire to serve.

Benefits of Volunteering

You may be wondering why you should consider giving up the little bit of free time that you have to volunteer. For one thing, helping people never gets old. Just ask those who do it on a regular basis! There is simply no substitute for putting a smile on someone’s face or meeting a need.

At the same time, there are practical benefits associated with volunteering. If you are considering switching careers, but need to gain additional experience, volunteering is a great way to do it. It’s also a way to get more involved in your current career field.

For example, Dr. Mary Goggins Selke, core curriculum faculty for Northcentral University’s School of Education and founding chair of the Association of Teacher Educators’ Special Interest Group (SIG) for Educational Leadership, recently had the opportunity to publish an article in the Southern Journal of Educational Administration with other SIG members.

“It started out as a presentation for a national conference that we attended, but then I received an email call for article proposals and suggested to the team that we convert the paper to an article,” she relates. “We met over lunch at the conference and hammered out an article outline and who-needed-to-do-what.  I wrote the intro and closing discussion, submitted the article, and the rest is history.”

Selke also serves as choir director for a nursing home choir in her hometown, the perfect outlet for utilizing her passion (and undergraduate degree) for music.

“I always thought volunteering was just something you did because my family did lots of it and involved me from the time I was very young,” she says. “But the truth is it doesn’t matter if it involves professional service or local or global community service in an area of passion apart from one’s profession. Or, if it’s done in-person or virtually…volunteering always provides a means to augment the quality of life for people touched by the ripple effect of putting your actions where your beliefs are.”

 *Originally published in Higher Degrees Winter 2014.

NCU Student Profile: Doctoral Candidate Named 2nd VP of TNTESOL

Serving the ESL Community – When a Calling Becomes a Career

Tammy Hutchinson-Harosky (Ed.D., English as a Second Language, candidate)


For some, becoming an educator is a career path. For others, like Tammy Hutchinson-Harosky, it was a calling. “I decided at a young age that I wanted to be a teacher. Actually, I really wanted to open my own dance studio, but my dance instructor told me that I would need a teaching license to do that, so I decided I would be a teacher instead! I just wanted to make a difference.”

That dance instructor provided the spark for a dream, but a family with strong educational values groomed an educator-to-be. “At an early age, my parents instilled in my brothers and me the importance of education,” explains Hutchinson-Harosky. “Getting a college degree was not an option – the only choice was where we would go to get it. My parents worked very hard to make sure that my two brothers and I received a college education, and they still encourage us to reach for the stars.”

Since the publication of the Winter Issue of Higher Degrees, Hutchinson-Harosky has been inducted as 2nd Vice-President of TNTESOL (TN Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) at the TNTESOL 2014 conference in Nashville, TN on 3/22/14.  She will serve as 2nd Vice-President (2014-15); 1st Vice-President (2015-16); President (2016-17); Past President (2017-18).

Since the publication of the Winter Issue of Higher Degrees, Hutchinson-Harosky has been inducted as 2nd Vice-President of TNTESOL (TN Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) at the TNTESOL 2014 conference in Nashville, TN on 3/22/14. She will serve as 2nd Vice-President (2014-15); 1st Vice-President (2015-16); President (2016-17); Past President (2017-18).

Hutchinson-Harosky chose Carson-Newman College (now University) in Jefferson City, Tennessee, as the venue for her first few steps toward the head of the classroom. First, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English/Secondary Education with a minor in Spanish, which she immediately put to use teaching various levels of English and Spanish for Blount County Schools. And later – while teaching full-time – she returned to Carson-Newman to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching with a focus on English as a Second Language.

“I taught in the public school setting for nineteen years,” Hutchinson-Harosky explains. “[But] after spending 12 years in the high school setting, I felt I needed to make more of a difference. I decided it was time to move into the ESL field. The students were so eager to learn and appreciative of every bit of knowledge they could gain,” she says.

Quickly, the ESL community became Hutchinson-Harosky’s newest passion for contribution to the education community.

“There are so many needs in the field of ESL,” she asserts. “Even if an individual does not hold a teaching license in ESL, [they] could volunteer to teach adult ESL students basic survival skills such as going to the bank or the doctor. Volunteer programs that reach out to help ESL families are always in need of individuals who are willing to give their time to help the ESL families to adjust to the new culture.”

Inspired by the eager students she taught in the classroom, she joined the Tennessee Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TNTESOL) organization in 2007 and continues to attend conferences.

In the years since focusing her efforts on the ESL community, Hutchinson-Harosky has completed her Ed.S. in Curriculum and Instruction at Lincoln Memorial University and is currently pursuing her Ed.D., with a focus on English as a Second Language, at Northcentral University.

Somewhere between earning graduate degrees and certifications, joining professional organizations, and inspiring a generation of students, Hutchinson-Harosky found time for her proudest accomplishment – her family.

“I have been married to my husband, Chris Harosky, for 13 years. I am the very proud mother of two caring, smart and athletic daughters – Hannah and Haley. We also have three furry children – Snowball, Coco and Maggie. I consider [my family] to be my greatest accomplishment.”

Now an experienced, passionate educator and mother with strong ties to her community, Hutchinson-Harosky’s calling as an educator has taken her to King University in Bristol, TN, where she works in the School of Education as the ESL program coordinator and teaches ESL and literacy courses.

“I really work with a fabulous group of educators at King University,” she admits. “I hope that as I grow as a college professor I will instill the same love of learning that I see them instilling in the future teachers that we work with.”

Like many educators before her, Hutchinson-Harosky continues to find inspiration in the teachers who inspired her commitment to teaching and learning as a lifelong pursuit.

“I can picture in my mind the faces of the wonderful educators that I have had in the past,” she reflects. “Phyllis Ratliffe, who was hard, but fair and presented the material in a way that made me realize I wanted to be an English teacher. Gail Dalton, who encouraged me to never stop learning and still encourages me to continue my education until I [finish] my doctorate.”

Moving forward, Hutchinson-Harosky hopes that through her teaching at King University she’ll continue to make a difference for children and teachers in the education community, just as her teachers have done for her. “As an educator, there is nothing like seeing that student have [their] ‘ah-ha’ moment and knowing that you were a part of it,” she says.

 *Originally published in Higher Degrees Winter 2014.

5 Free Apps to Help Sharpen Your Mind


News flash – your app store isn’t just for games anymore! Start using your Smartphone for something smart. Rather than browsing Facebook, email or the latest political meltdown, try downloading these five free apps that can help you sharpen your mind and expand your knowledge. (All apps are available on iOS and Andriod platforms.)

1.       Lumosity Mobile

Looking to give your brain a workout? Designed by neuroscientists, Lumosity Mobile uses a series of brain training games to improve multiple areas of brain function including memory, attention and speed. The newest version even allows you to share your progress and challenge friends.

2.       Today’s Document

The National Archives’ first mobile application is actually a daily snapshot of important documents housed in the US National Archives. From letters to presidents to famous photos, you never know what you’re going to get. Read about the background of each document to exercise your brain’s ability to retain even the smallest detail.

3.       TED

Let’s face it – successful people have great things to say and with the TED app, you can hear it all. Browse through talks from leaders in almost any industry, from education to music and business. The app can also notify you when new TEDTalks are added – at a rate of more than 1,400 per week! TED lets you learn from and be inspired by the best in your field, whatever field that may be.

4.       Daily Art

The world’s most famous pieces of art all tell a story, and you can learn it through the Daily Art app. Each day you’ll get a snapshot of a piece art and a short description about what makes it relevant. File these tidbits away for the next time you attend a student and alumni mixer and need to impress!

5.       Khan Academy

Need to brush up on your statistics before you start your program? Looking for a refresher on the solar system so you can help your child with their project? Khan Academy has it all. Download videos, track your progress and earn achievements all on the go.

 *Originally published in Higher Degrees Winter 2014.

The Common Core Curriculum in a Flatter, Faster World


The common core curriculum has been a long time coming. While much has been said about the challenges of its implementation, one thing is clear: the common core curriculum is a sure sign, as Thomas Friedman has reminded us, that the world is flatter and faster and those flattening elements are having an impact on the steps me must take to be competitive, which includes more thoughtfully examining what is happening in every classroom in the United States.

What makes the common core so unique is the fact that for the first time ever there is a national conversation about the specific learning outcomes in math and language arts. While we have had recommendations in the past from national organizations in math and language arts, we have never established an agreed upon set of specific learning outcomes in these subjects that all schools in the United States are asked to achieve (source). Other countries like China, Singapore, and Norway do have a published national curriculum, and those countries all rank higher in both math and language arts than the United States (OECD, 2014).

So why did it take so long? The answer is simple. Local control. One of the more formative aspects of K-12 public education in the United States is our adherence to the importance of local control (Edgar, 2008). Local communities are afforded the opportunity to establish schools that meet their standards and have choices and priorities matching local preferences. This has been a wonderful attribute that allows a local school to indeed create learning opportunities that prepare the student to be a meaningful contributor to the local community.

The downside of all this local control has been uneven expectations and, at times, exceedingly low standards (Duncan, 2012). Before the common core curriculum, it wasn’t uncommon to find high schools where graduation didn’t require more than two years of math. That math experience wouldn’t necessarily have even included Algebra.

These lower expectations may have been acceptable in local school districts and surrounding communities based on regional jobs and expectations for work standards in the near future. However, that was then. Today, the internationalization of almost everything we do has made the working environment excruciatingly competitive and is forcing schools throughout the United States to broaden their horizons and indeed think about their curriculum against a broader national and at times international standard as they prepare students for an economy that will be altogether different than the economy most of us grew up in. Local control was based on the assumption that the local community would inherit the benefits (Edgar, 2008). Today, there is a much greater level of mobility and competition from all corners of the world are emerging.

Indeed Thomas Friedman was right. The world is getting flatter, faster, and more deeply interconnected. And the common core curriculum, although imperfect, is helping all students get ready for it.

Duncan, A. (2013, June). Duncan Pushes Back on Attacks on Common Core Standards. Speech presented at the American Society of News Editors Annual Convention, Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C.

Edgar, W.G. (2008). 21st Century Challenges to Local Control. Presented to the Washington State School Directors Association.

OECD (2014), PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can do – Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science (Volume I, Revised edition, February 2014), PISA, OECD Publishing.

NCU Student Profile: Success Is Determined by Desire, Determination and Dedication


Christopher Martinez Assistant Special Agent in Charger, I.C.E.

Christopher Martinez
Assistant Special Agent in Charge, I.C.E.

Christopher Martinez (Ph.D., Business Administration / Homeland Security, candidate) grew up in the inner city of New York and Worcester, Mass. Today, he is an Assistant Special Agent in Charge of 70 other special agents, intelligence analysts and task force officers.

He has enjoyed an eclectic career that has included serving on active duty in the Navy and as Army reservist.  As a federal agent he has investigated contraband and human smugglers, worked as an undercover operative and held international assignments.

As a teenager, Martinez’s path in life was anything but clear. “No one in my family had gone to college. I had influential teachers and counselors in high school that steered me to a program called Upward Bound – a program that encourages and assists first generation underprivileged inner-city kids go to college. I was accepted by the University of Massachusetts, but instead I enlisted in the Navy.”

Martinez spent five years in the Navy, based in San Diego, in a career that resembled the Air Force. “I was a naval air traffic controller that never went to sea,” he laughs.

It was during this time that Martinez decided the time was right for college. “My unit commander was a huge education advocate. He inspired me to start my degree – I worked during the day, and despite having a young family, I went to school at night,” said Martinez, who graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a bachelor’s degree in aviation management.

After serving in the Navy, and hoping to become a special agent, Martinez joined the U.S. Customs Service as a Detection Systems Specialist. His role was to intercept smugglers via aviation technology at the California-Mexico border.

“Two years after joining the Customs Service, I was promoted to an intelligence specialist and we moved to Charleston. In 1991 I realized my dream and became a special agent. That was followed by six years in Miami where I investigated money laundering and narcotics crimes, sometimes undercover,” he recalls.

After eight years on the East Coast, Martinez and his family returned to the West Coast. They were stationed in El Centro, California when he took a job leading internal investigations.

Following his term in the Navy, Martinez had joined the Army Reserves as a Warrant Officer. Six days after September 11, 2001, while stationed in El Centro, he was activated and sent to Fort Mead, Maryland, where he served in the Army as a counterintelligence officer. He was released from active duty one year later. “While it was a challenge to be away from my family for that period of time, I was honored to serve,” he says.

It was after seven years in El Centro (including his year at Fort Mead) and thinking that an international appointment would be interesting, that Martinez transferred to Washington DC.

“In the military they teach you to do the absolute best that you can do, whatever you are assigned to do,” he explains. “That is advice that I have always tried to follow, whether I was being observed or not.”

That dedication to doing his best was noticed when Martinez was assigned to DC and led to his first assignment overseas. “It seems I had impressed several people. When I was in DC my name was recognized and I was recommended for a six month assignment in Bogotá.”

While in DC the Department of Homeland Security was created and all U.S. Customs Service special agents were transferred to a new agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Six months in Bogota was followed by three years as the ICE attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Panama City, Panama. Martinez oversaw ICE relationships with seven Central American countries: Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala.

“It was a fascinating period,” remarks Martinez. “While I reported into my ICE chain of command, I also worked directly for the American Ambassadors in all seven countries. On a monthly basis I would sit down with the equivalent of these countries attorney generals or their representative. Imagine having a standing monthly meeting with the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder!”

There is a lesson in Martinez’s international assignments. “Who knows if those assignments would have come my way had I not always been committed to doing my best no matter who was watching, or not? Obviously, someone was. ”

After three years, Martinez and his family were rotated stateside where he investigated human trafficking and smuggling. In 2009, he was promoted to assistant special agent in charge.

“Along the way, I completed a master’s in teaching from Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla. I chose Northcentral University for my Ph.D. in Homeland Security because I’d like to teach at the college level. I’ve had some interesting career experiences and I’d like to share them with the next generation.”

So, if Martinez could go back in time and tell the apprehensive young man who joined the Navy instead of going to college anything, what would it be?

“These days, I’m a believer in the advice of Denny Green, the former coach of the Minnesota Vikings” he says. “Specifically, as long as you exhibit desire, determination and dedication, you can be successful no matter what your circumstances are.”

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

Higher Education Career Paths Inside and Outside the Classroom


When it comes to choosing your higher education career path, it’s all about finding the best fit for your interests and goals. Like most fields, higher education is exceedingly diverse and caters to a range of professionals with varying levels of education and expertise.

“The qualifications and requirements are quite different for administrators and professors – as well as in research institutions and teaching institutions,” acknowledges Karen Ferguson (Ph.D.), assistant dean of the NCU’s School of Education. “The best advice I can give is to take the time to reflect on what type of higher education professional you want to be. Then research the minimum qualifications.”

We’ve compiled some common higher education career paths to highlight the versatility of a higher education career, both inside and outside the classroom. Whether you are a teacher with dean-sized dreams, want to transition into academia, or feel like you’d be a good fit for a position in research or administration, higher education provides plenty of career options.


As the cornerstone of the education field, teaching is often the go-to path for many higher education professionals. It includes numerous options based on your level of education and teaching experience.

In some cases, a master’s degree may qualify you to teach at a community college or as an adjunct for multiple schools, both face-to-face and online. At the doctoral level, you may find opportunities at a 4-year public or private college, or depending on where you earned your degree, on the tenure track at a research university.

Teaching experience is also important in academics. If you are looking to get your foot in the teaching door, you may start off as a TA, lecturer or assistant professor. If you are experienced in one field, you may qualify as a program chair and have oversight of curriculum and other faculty.

Each school is different and has its own requirements for teachers. Be sure to do your homework beforehand to find a school that best fits your education and experience.

Curriculum Development

Academia simply does not function without quality curriculum. Higher education relies on countless subject matter experts to help develop cutting-edge curriculum that is relevant to society and employers.

This is when professional experience outside academia can be incredibly useful. For example, if you’ve spent your career as an accounting professional, you probably have a great idea of the knowledge and skills that today’s graduates need. Your career input could be invaluable in aligning the curriculum and outcomes to reflect the accounting field.


Higher education has a lot of moving parts, and institutions need employees to help manage and support all of the different areas.

Common areas in higher education administration include:

  • Admissions
  • Advising
  • Alumni Relations
  • Business & Finance
  • Career Counseling
  • Human Resources
  • Institutional Research & Planning
  • Public Relations & Communications
  • Residential Life
  • Student Affairs & Services

With all of these options in academic administration, it’s important to consider your degree choice. A degree specialization gives you the opportunity to tailor your education to a specific area of administration. There are also plenty of short-term certificate options available to help you develop your niche down the road.


Research is an area that affects both academics and administration.

Institutional Research

Before coming to NCU, Associate Director of Programmatic Research, Melissa Helvey worked in a Brain, Behavior and Cognition lab at Northwestern, took classes and taught a Statistics course.  “I have always had an interest in science and research,” says Helvey. “I like to know how things are ‘proven’ and what that information is telling us.”

For example, institutional research helps inform campus decision-making and planning through assessment. “By actively assessing student learning, we can determine if a student is learning and meeting their program learning objectives, and if not, where changes in a program need to be made,” explains Helvey.

Research Faculty

Research faculty play a vital role in university academics. While their research contributions help their colleges and universities receive valuable funding and grants, they must often split time between teaching and working on their research. Research faculty must also have a firm grasp of research methods, statistics, a strong ability to synthesize information and extensive publishing experience.

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

NCU Faculty Profile: Mentoring the Next Generation of Teachers, One at a Time


For Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D) life headed south – fast – on the first day of retirement.

Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D.)

Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D.)

“I decided to avoid the reality of retirement by driving South to visit the states that I had not visited before: Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama,” laughs Erb.

Erb had retired in March 2013 after six years as the Superintendent of the Tuscarora School District, which is located in Pennsylvania approximately 90 minutes north of Washington D.C. “I began my teaching career as a social studies teacher in two different school districts before becoming the Principal of Tyrone Area High School in 1997, and then moved on to become the Superintendent of Schools at Tuscarora.”

But Erb’s retirement was only a partial one. She had begun teaching at Northcentral University in 2010. These days she facilitates Teaching as Reflective Practice in Secondary Education (ED4008) in the B.Ed. program and School Law (EDL5008-8), Education Policy and Practices (EDL5022-8), Contemporary Issues (ED5001-8) and Action Research Capstone (ED6002-8) in the M.Ed. program.

Erb has on average 30 students at any time. “One of the most fulfilling parts of being a principal and superintendent was mentoring young teachers. NCU’s one-to-one teaching model is similar to how I mentored my teachers. I have a chance to learn about them, what they are interested in and the challenges they encounter. That allows me to tailor my feedback to their specific circumstances.”

And there is a wealth of information that Erb shares from her 30-year career in education. “When I was a principal a few of my colleagues were working on school leadership standards for Pennsylvania that were aligned to National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) standards. Following their lead, I had the opportunity to be involved in the development of Pennsylvania’s Inspired Leadership (PIL) program,” she explains.

“I implemented PIL in the Tuscarora School District by requiring the principals to complete the required training. Getting the district leadership team on the same page made a huge difference as we worked together to improve facilities, develop quality curriculum, and increase student achievement in the school district” notes Erb.

Higher education today is much different than when Erb started teaching, let alone completed her Ed.D. at Penn State University. “I had to drive to class and carve out time for a required on-site internship. Not to mention that I practically lived at the library. There was no extensive online library available then, just stacks of books and card catalogs,” she notes.

Erb is fond of quoting the idiomatic expression of unknown origins “we live in interesting times.”

“I teach for an online graduate school, but I live in a farmhouse that has been in my husband’s family since the William Penn Land Grant,” shared Erb. (The William Penn Land Grant – for history buffs – was awarded to William Penn by King Charles II in 1681. It is on display in the Library of Congress.)

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

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