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Driven Graduate Student Balances Her Career and Earning Advanced Degree

Throughout her academic career, Molly Crum has balanced her professional life alongside her passion for learning more.

Crum graduated from James Madison University in 2017 with her bachelor’s degree in psychology and continued her studies, focusing on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for the following year-and-a-half, all while working part-time. She is the administrative and program assistant in the Office of Youth and Family Programs at the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation in Virginia.

Crum began researching various graduate programs for the fall 2019 semester when she found the Youth, Family, and Community Sciences (YFCS) online program at NC State.

“I explored many master’s programs in Youth Development, or Family Sciences, or Community Services. The YFCS degree at NC State stood out to me because their curriculum integrated all of these topics,” explains Crum. “They offer a holistic program with a focus on equity, which was very important to me. I also liked that the NC State program was geared for non-traditional learners, because I knew they would help me be successful even from a different state.”

Crum’s advisor, Maru Gonzalez, commends her success throughout the program. “Molly is truly a model student. In the classroom, she was both engaging and engaged, consistently taking discussions to a more critical and introspective level. She demonstrated an innate curiosity and a drive to learn more, do more and expand her capacity to better engage the youth and families with whom she worked,” applauds Gonzalez. “I look forward to following her continued contributions to the field of family science.”

“Molly is an incredible student and I am so fortunate to have had her in my classes. She is a great example of someone who truly cares about people and learning,” shares Jamie Alexander, one of Crum’s professors in the program. “Molly integrated course content in her current professional role in innovative and impactful ways and she didn’t shy away from encouraging her classmates to do the same. Also, she wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions or share her thoughts, which were always meaningful and evident of critical analysis on how one might answer them. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”

Though unable to attend the in-person commencement ceremony, Crum plans on celebrating her achievements alongside family and friends during the virtual ceremony.

“It’s bittersweet to be graduating,” shares Crum. “I’m excited to celebrate this accomplishment, but I’m going to miss my professors and classmates.”

We caught up with Crum to learn more about her experience in the YFCS program and congratulate our #NCStateOnline spring 2021 graduates!

Describe your experience in the YFCS program.

I couldn’t be more satisfied with my experience in the YFCS program. The courses were interesting and relevant, as my family can tell you because I brought up what I was learning any chance I could get. It’s crazy how connected I feel to my professors, classmates and the community without ever having stepped foot on campus. I loved getting to work with so many diverse people through class assignments and discussions. You can imagine how surprised this city girl was her first semester to learn about agriculture and Extension from some of her classmates! It was really inspiring to learn from the experiences and perspectives of my peers.

How did you balance working and completing your degree?

I was fortunate to have a lot of support from my social networks. My co-workers often asked me how my semester was going and my boss was willing to provide me with occasional accommodations. My family provided me encouragement and always understood if I was too busy to attend a family event. My boyfriend even bought me a smart table lamp so I could read late at night.

It’s also important to know yourself and your schedule. I found I was more productive staying up late to read than getting up earlier in the mornings. I used 30 minutes of my lunch break to get discussion posts written, because this was easier than finding time once I got home and had to walk my dog, cook dinner, etc.

I also incorporated school and work when I could. For example, when my organization needed someone to take over a new virtual program, I was able to step up and use it for my internship. When I needed volunteer hours for my Volunteer Management class, I contacted the head of an after-school program that my organization had collaborated with. Anytime you can streamline your tasks, it’ll help you achieve balance.

Finally, when you love what you are studying, it makes doing class readings much easier and more enjoyable! I was more motivated to put in the necessary effort and prioritize school because I knew I would use this knowledge a lot in my future career.

How do you see your YFCS master’s degree impacting your career?

Being in the YFCS master’s program has already impacted my current work. Since my organization knew I was in school, they asked me to assist with trainings and presentations for staff. In the future, I think having my master’s will make me stand out more as a candidate, especially as NC State is a highly regarded university. I see my degree helping me obtain leadership positions, such as director of an early childhood education program or child and family services manager.

Did you have any faculty members who were particularly inspiring or stood out to you?

Maru Gonzalez was my advisor, and she was always available to help me figure out my plan of work. I was also in several of her classes, such as Program Development and Evaluation and Applied Concepts in Child and Youth Development. She really opened my eyes to the Social Justice Youth Development framework and made me consider intersectionality in a way I haven’t before.

Jamie Alexander was the professor for my YFCS 500 Supervised Professional Experience class. She created a great class atmosphere and challenged me and my classmates to do our best. Many of us were trying to adapt to our internships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Professor Alexander was very supportive and encouraging throughout the process.

What is your advice for other working professionals who are thinking about continuing their education or are currently enrolled in a master’s program? 

I would encourage any working professional who’s thinking of continuing their education to go for it! There’s always going to be a reason to put off or delay furthering your education. Many of my classmates had children or were working two jobs, and they were able to be successful with dedication and hard work. My advice is to consider who you have in your support system and rely on them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or extra support when you need it.

An online program is a great option for someone like me who has a settled job, family, home, etc. in one area, but doesn’t want their education to be limited by their location. Online classes tend to be more self-paced than traditional classes, so you can fit classwork around your work schedule. If I knew I had a particularly busy week at work, I tried to get the module assignments done the weekend before. With commitment and focus (and putting your phone away during classes!), it’s definitely possible to be successful in an online program.

Congratulations to Molly and the rest of the spring 2021 graduating class! 

Are you interested in advancing your career by earning an online Master of Youth, Family, and Community Sciences degree? Visit the program page or online.ncsu.edu/programs for a full list of degree and certificate programs.

This post was originally published in DELTA News.