Earning an education has always been considered an important investment for the family of Laura McAllister. One of her grandmothers dropped out of middle school to support her family financially, and the other graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in the early 1900s. Their examples taught Laura McAllister that receiving an education was a valuable privilege.
As a result, McAllister did not take getting her education lightly. Drawn to the field of education, she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the McKay School of Education at BYU in 2008. She later earned a master’s degree at Southern Utah University in 2014. Finally, she returned to BYU to earn another master’s in instructional psychology and technology, also located in the McKay School, in 2016.
During the eight-year gap between receiving her bachelor’s and receiving her two master’s degrees, Laura McAllister taught second grade in Utah’s Nebo School District for six years. She described her experience there as “unforgettable.”
“As an educator, my top priority was to ensure that students wanted to come to school, that they felt welcome, safe, and confident. My goal was to get to know the students, their families, and their needs,” said McAllister.
By befriending a new student, McAllister helped this student feel welcome and accepted, even after having to switch schools because of behavioral problems. “He was placed in my class. Every day we set goals and created a private chart to track his behavior. We came a long way, but the next year I felt the success of my efforts when he would stop by my classroom every day after school and tell me how he was doing and his progress with his current teacher and class,” recounted McAllister.
By taking the time to get to know her students, McAllister gained “the confidence to pursue an advanced degree. “[It] increased desire to do more to help students and improve education on a broader scale.”
The Nebo School District partnered with Southern Utah University to offer the master’s degree education program to all of its teachers. McAllister took advantage of this offer and was able to receive a master’s degree because of it. This opportunity resonated with McAllister’s personal belief, that “the best teachers are the best learners—constantly seeking to expand themselves.”
McAllister took her own advice to the extreme and expanded her education by earning her second master’s degree. She returned to her alma mater, the McKay School of Education, where she received a master’s in instructional psychology and technology.
While attending graduate school, McAllister interned, participated in, and worked at places that have prepared her for her current position, as a BYU online courses administrator.
One particular internship that McAllister mentioned was the one she did in Washington, D.C., with the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. She was able to work with McKay School alumni, Richard Culatta and Joseph South and hear stories that encouraged her to pursue a teaching position centered around technology.
“It was inspiring to hear about rural school districts whose students’ homes did not have internet access . . . companies would team up with schools to wire a bus with Wi-Fi and park it in a neighborhood so students could do their homework at home or on the bus ride home,” described McAllister.
She implements the skills learned in her past experiences as she works in her new position as a BYU online courses administrator. “I am responsible for the professional development of online teachers and teaching assistants. I hire and train new online TAs in Canvas, Adobe Connect/Zoom, and online teaching best practices. I also work with teachers to troubleshoot any technical or logistical complications they may encounter.”
To students going into the field of education, Laura McAllister encourages taking advantage of “any and all opportunities to learn and grow personally and professionally” and to invest in their own education, just like she did in hers.
Writer: Hannah Antillon
Contact: Shauna Valentine (801) 422-8562