Degree, Interrupted

The COE helps alumna finish what life disrupted

Sharon Ponder

“I tell my students that when you can have continuity with your education, take advantage of it, because when you get older, life just happens. It happened to me,” says Sharon Ponder, proud holder of a newly minted Master of Education in Teaching and Learning. She was just one course short of finishing her degree years ago when life happened: first the illness and death of her mother, followed by Ponder’s decision to take a leave from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and teach in New Orleans for six years following Hurricane Katrina.

Her experiences in New Orleans convinced Ponder that she needed to return to Chicago and teach African-American students in a community similar to the one where she grew up. Based on the experiences of her eight brothers and sisters, she knew that higher education was the key to her family’s success. But could she return to the College of Education to finish her degree?

Absolutely, says Roxanne Owens, chair of the Department of Teacher Education. The college assesses returning students on a case-by-case basis and readmits them whenever possible. It was an easy decision to readmit Ponder, who taught steadily throughout her absence, is nationally board-certified, and is a Yale National Teacher Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar and a Golden Apple finalist.

Ponder, a fourth-grade teacher at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, works more than full time—she’s at the school seven days a week. Returning to DePaul to finish her coursework meant she needed to find an evening class.

“Every teacher can always learn more about children’s literature, so I brought her into my class,” says Owens. Because Ponder shared her extensive experience with the underclassmen in the course, which meets both undergraduate and graduate requirements, the class was a rich experience for everyone.


“I tell my students that when you can have continuity with your education, take advantage of it, because when you get older, life just happens. It happened to me.”

Ponder says her delayed finish was a blessing. “I had an opportunity to mesh with younger ideas and take a fresh approach to teaching and to education. I got to look at education practices through the eyes of millennials.”

Owens says returning students often take classes that better serve their current needs. “Instead of that social studies class you didn’t take, you might benefit more from learning how to use data for instruction or a curriculum class,” she says.

Ponder couldn’t be more pleased with the support she got from the COE: “It speaks volumes to the type of institution that DePaul is that they would consider my case, evaluate it and say, ‘She’s worthy of finishing.’ I can’t say enough about how grateful I am.” Owens says, “Sharon is the kind of person that you are proud to see as a DePaul graduate.”

If you know people interested in returning to the COE to complete their degree, please ask them to contact Nancy Hashimoto, director of advising, at nhashimo@depaul.edu. ​​