Psychology BA, MA, and Master of Teaching student earns three degrees in her forties
After being diagnosed with a permanent physical disability at the age of two, Stephanie Chenard grew up often hearing all the things she couldn’t do from others. Being told and reminded of your limitations takes a toll on a child, as Chenard says she allowed this narrative to dictate her life.
“I grew up hearing ‘you can’t do this because A, B, C, you can’t do that because X, Y, Z,’ and for the longest time, I allowed that to define my life,” says Chenard. “In adulthood, after undergoing multiple surgeries, including two hip replacements, I started to question, ‘why am I allowing other peoples’ narratives to shape my story?’ People should write their own story and follow their own dreams.”
Back to school
“I decided to break other people’s narratives in the harshest way possible and go back to school to unlock new opportunities for myself,” says Chenard. “I chose UMass Dartmouth because it provided the proximity, flexibility, and reputation I was looking for, but also because it was evident that there was a great community here. It was refreshing to see all the friendly people collaborating in common spaces. It just seemed right.”
Now 47, a mother and wife, Chenard was more than 20 years removed from her last experience in an educational environment when she arrived at UMassD in 2015.
"Going back to school wasn’t an easy decision, as I still had to balance managing a family and home life, pursuing an education, and managing my physical health,” says Chenard. “But my determination was stronger than my struggles.
“I chose to study psychology because I’m fascinated with the human brain and I love helping and advocating for others. Learning skills and gaining knowledge that I can incorporate into my daughter’s life was very useful, as she is neurodiverse, but it also gave me a passion to use it to help others. I initially intended to go into clinical psychology, but Professor Hartnett pointed me towards another passion after believing in me enough to recommend me as a tutor to other students.”
A passion for teaching
“While tutoring, I found out I have a passion for teaching others and helping them to take the next step in their life,” says Chenard. “Making a complex subject relatable and understandable for others is so rewarding; it inspired me to combine my passions for psychology and research with literature and writing so I can teach the next generation of scholars.”
This passion led Chenard to immediately continue her education with a master’s in teaching, licensing her to teach at Massachusetts public schools. This degree, combined with her master’s in psychological research, allowed her a deeper understanding of education, child development, and the intricacies of learning.
“I didn’t skip a beat. I just kept going and earned three degrees in seven years. My professors consistently encouraged me along the way, supporting anything I wanted to try, which was such a contrast to what I was accustomed to hearing. I had an entire cheer squad behind me advocating for my success, reminding me how far I’ve come and how far I’m going to go.”
With a master of psychological research and teaching with a concentration in middle school and high school English language arts, Chenard has accepted a role to teach seventh grade writing at Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, MA. There, Chenard hopes to teach more than traditional book report-style writing.
“I love teaching writing because it’s so broad and can be tailored to each individual’s skills,” says Chenard. “There’s scientific research writing, poetry and songwriting, historical writing, journalistic writing and interviewing, and social media caption writing, which is certainly growing. There’s no such thing as a bad writer. People just need to find which style best suits them. I hope to incorporate each content area into this class to inspire each individual to find their passion for writing.”
Advice to others
“Anybody can go back to school no matter their age or health. The most intimidating thing is taking the first step onto campus. After that, you’ll be surprised how quickly the next step comes. And the next. And before you know it, you’re walking across the commencement stage. There may be challenges, but each challenge helps you grow and proves that your determination is stronger than the challenges. Just keep moving yourself forward. Modify your environment to fit your needs and write your story how you want it to go. Only you can write your own story. Make it great!"