From an early age, Walden PhD in Education student Janet Riley felt she would pursue a profession that centered on helping people. She recalls helping her brother complete homework assignments as a child, which revealed her affinity for facilitating learning. “I knew I would become a teacher or social worker,” she says. “I chose teaching because it allows you to impact young people specifically.”

A teacher for 40 years, Riley currently teaches business technology at Elkhart Central High School in Indiana, and the impact she has made is significant. Earlier this year, she was chosen out of 129 entrants at the Mishawaka, Indiana, Barnes & Noble to win the local “My Favorite Teacher” contest after being nominated by a student. She went on to win the regional contest, which included 120 stores.

Never one to wait for others to address a problem, Riley has launched several clubs and initiatives at Elkhart, including the club Students for Diversity and Unity. “I noticed that many of the activities at the school were not reaching a large portion of the student body, minority and gay students in particular. This club provides a comfortable and inclusive forum for all students who want to promote diversity at school.” Activities include a district-wide talent show and No Name-Calling Week—an annual event that occurs the week after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. However, Riley knew that to influence a larger group of people, she would eventually have to leave the classroom. “I went back to get my degree, with plans to eventually become a motivational speaker. A doctorate adds credibility,” she explains. Her research will focus on at-risk students.

“As part of my studies, I am researching multiculturalism and its impact on African-American male students,” Riley says. She is currently working on a case study about how teachers address cultural gaps and how that impacts African-American students.

By earning her doctorate, Riley hopes to set an example for her students. “When I tell my students that I’m going to become a doctor, they wonder if that means that I will quit teaching,” she says. “I explain other leadership career opportunities that are available in education and what more I can do in education with a doctorate. I show them that the sky is the limit but it takes hard work.”

Riley also notes that you are never too old seek an advanced degree. “I want my students to know that education is a lifelong process. You should always continue to learn.”

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