Student perspectives: an inside look at Rider's master's program in educational leadership

Dominique Pesco ’14 and Sharin Rello reflect on their experiences
Keith Fernbach
Dominique Pesco ’14 received a bachelor’s from Rider in business education and is now in her fifth year as a teacher. She returned to her alma mater to enroll in the University’s educational leadership graduate program, where she is pursuing a master’s in teacher leadership, with principal and supervision certificates. 
After she graduates, Pesco would like to transition into a supervisory role within the school system, but her ultimate goal is to become a college professor. “I look up to and admire the professors at Rider University and I hope to one day give back to college students as the faculty here did for me,” she says.  
Sharin Rello received a bachelor’s in music performance and a master’s in teaching from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She is now a music teacher in the Lawrence Township public school system. Rello is also working toward the completion of the principal certification program at Rider, after which she would like to move into a supervisory position in the arts or become an assistant principal as she prepares to transition into an educational leadership role. 
In 2017, Rello was honored as the Mercer County Teacher of the Year. “I believe the information I was learning at Rider during that time is directly related to me receiving this award,” she says. 
In the following Q&A, Pesco and Rello talk about why Rider’s educational leadership program was the best choice for them, what their experience has been like, and offer advice for others looking to pursue careers in educational leadership roles.
Why did you choose Rider?
Pesco: From my experience here as an undergraduate, I knew Rider was the right place for me when I was looking for a graduate program. Rider’s education program is one of a kind. It gives students real-world experiences that offer unique opportunities and become excellent talking points when interviewing for leadership positions. In addition, class sizes are small and students get one-on-one attention from professors, which is one of the main reasons I chose Rider for my education again. I formed professional relationships with my professors and I know they are there for me along the way.
Rello: I looked into Rider’s leadership program after working with several alumni and professors whose philosophies in education aligned with my own.  What made me decide that Rider was the right fit for me was the ability to choose to take classes in the hybrid style the university has established, which combines class meetings with weekly online assignments and discussions.  It was important to me to build relationships throughout my education, as these connections will help to further me as a teacher leader and potentially a future educational leader. The hybrid courses allowed me the time management I needed to work full time and still make connections to professors and peers in the local area. 
What has your experience been like in the program?
Pesco: It has been wonderful. Every class has students produce a leadership growth project, which has provided me with amazing experiences and opportunities. Each project gives me hands-on experience and perspective into various educational topics and helps prepare me for things future teacher leaders and/or administrators will experience. All of these experiences have a common goal: student achievement. By completing these projects, I not only feel well prepared for my future, but I also feel like I’m contributing to the lifelong success of the students in my school.
Rello: I have had an extremely positive experience in the Rider educational leadership  Program. I have found that every class benefited not only my knowledge of teacher leadership but also my classroom instruction. In addition, every staff member or professor I have interacted with on campus, online or via phone, has been respectful and kind.  The professors are extremely knowledgeable and easily available to help with any questions or concerns that may pertain to the course or challenges you may be facing as an educator.
What advice would you offer to a prospective student looking for a program and considering a career in an educational leadership role?
Pesco: I would advise prospective students to come to Rider if they would like a one-of-a-kind learning experience. Rider’s program provides students with opportunities and experiences in the field like no other. In addition, at Rider, students are known by their name and get to work with professors who really know them and teach them at a personal, professional level. At first, I was unsure where I saw myself in education, but this program has really allowed me to explore all aspects of educational leadership roles and settings and allowed me to realize where I see myself. Moreover, I was able to discuss my future with staff that knew my background, interests, and strengths. 
Rello: I believe that Rider's educational leadership program prepares its students to be successful leaders.  The skills I learned in each class were necessary and useful.  The professors are professionals with deep roots in education and are easy to connect with. They understand the time commitments of educators and make sure that the content and coursework is productive. The leadership growth projects allowed me to work with the administrators in my building in an authentic way, opening teacher leadership opportunities in my building. 
What do you think makes Rider unique compared to other schools you were considering?
Pesco: What makes Rider’s program unique is the leadership growth projects. When I talk to other teachers that have a master’s degree, I realize they did not receive the same learning opportunities that Rider provided me. Rider prepares its students for the workforce in many different aspects of the education field through the growth projects. Right out of graduate school, people are able to see the tremendous work Rider students do and the benefits we gain from our work.
Rello: The two things that really stood out to me and drew me to this program were the quality of the faculty and the hybrid course model. Being able to meet my professors and classmates in person makes the online discussions much more meaningful and give the opportunity to clarify any concerns with assignments. I also appreciate how applicable the coursework and leadership growth projects are to the classroom.