“We Need To Do Things Differently” – Meet Calbright Faculty Jessica Schaid

Jessica Schaid never imagined she’d be passionate about curriculum design until — all of a sudden — she was. Now she’s Calbright’s faculty member for Curriculum and Assessment, making sure that the way we teach at Calbright best supports students in their future careers.

In college, Jessica majored in anthropology and political science. “I was fascinated by the collapse of civilizations, and so I really did feel that was going to be my calling,” she remembered. “I had opportunities to pursue other degrees with scholarships, and I said ‘no, I’m going to go become an archeologist.’ I thought I was going to be Indiana Jones.”

But as she started graduate school, she began substitute teaching and reflecting on her experience during her time in college with a group called Peer Diversity Educators.  

“I joined the group because they were really working for social equity within the University of Wisconsin system,” she remembered. “And in that organization I had the opportunity to develop some diversity curriculum. Then we would go into the college classrooms and some of the local middle school and high school classrooms, and facilitate the curriculum. And when we did that, I saw how it could improve classrooms, how it could help make teachers’ lives easier and help their students have magical experiences, and I fell in love with it. My life suddenly changed.”

A month after she started graduate school for archeology, she switched to education.

She loved it. But getting her teaching license and Master’s in curriculum and instruction required more sacrifice than she’d realized. 

“I had to take out a tremendous amount of student loan debt to get my teaching degree,” she said. “I had worked at Target at the time, as a cashier in customer service, trying to make some extra money – but most of my education was paid for by student loans. And when I graduated, I realized: wait, with this degree I actually make less money than I would have made had I stayed at Target as a cashier. And now I have over $50,000 in debt! Paying it off was a struggle. I always had to work more than one job, usually I was working 2-3 jobs, just so I could afford to be a classroom teacher. And I could only do that for so long before I knew I had to leave the classroom just to make ends meet. And that made me sad.”

She worked for a variety of educational institutions as a consultant, faculty member, and the director of curriculum. But after she first heard about Calbright, she decided she had to work here.  

“As soon as I came across Calbright I said: ‘I’ve got to be part of it!’ The thing that really grabbed me is that Calbright really was offering free tuition for students,” she said. “After my own struggle with student debt, I have always been thinking about ways that people can advance their education, have greater earning power, and not have to go into that debt. I didn’t like the struggle of having to pay off those student loans, I’m glad they’re done now, and I really wanted to support an organization that didn’t make its students go into debt.”

At Calbright, her official role is to help design and improve the curriculums that students go through. In practice, she said, that means “Data. Looking through lots of data.”

“I use all the data Calbright has to find places where students are struggling, where something isn’t working. Data tells us where we need to look. But that’s just the beginning of the process, because then you need to ask: why are they struggling? What’s going on? So next you dig into it, have conversations with the faculty, see what students are saying in different contexts, compare it with different areas of the curriculum, so you can really paint a picture of the experience students are having. And that’s when you make decisions about how to improve it for students. That’s the majority of my work so far.”

What she loves most is that Calbright is open to new approaches and big ideas to support students in ways that traditional colleges aren’t.

“If the traditional model of a college or university worked for our students, they would be there!” she said. “We need to do things differently. The more that we can think outside the box, so that our students can learn differently, in ways that work for them, the more our students will have a deeper, more successful, learning experience. Calbright is open to any idea that will help our students, and that makes it a dream job for me. Since my first week here I’ve been telling myself ‘the honeymoon is going to wear off.’ But it hasn’t yet! It may be kind of geeky, but this is what I love to do.”

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