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Not many people would drive four hours every day for three years to pursue a dream. That is what Jenni McCool, Ph.D. ’09, did when she chose Illinois State for her doctorate.
Moving to campus wasn’t an option for McCool, who didn’t want to uproot her two toddlers and husband from their home in Macomb. But she wouldn’t let the 111 miles stop her. Armed with audio books, music, NPR, and a hunger for learning, she prepared herself.
“I was going to have to spend four hours a day in the car, 20 hours a week teaching, and also do all of my coursework. At first I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to do it all,” she said. But the August before her first semester she received a letter saying she’d won the O’Daffer Fellowship.
“When I got the letter, we celebrated. It was a big deal for the whole family. That was a huge burden off our shoulders. The O’Daffer Fellowship allowed me to focus on my studies, and made sure I had some income to support my family.”McCool continued a tradition established by past recipients by working with an accelerated student at Metcalf. This was a natural fit for the seasoned educator who had taught high school while working on her master’s. After years of teaching, McCool wanted to touch the lives of even more students.
“I thought I could impact more students in the long run if I could impact their teachers. So I decided to get my Ph.D. so I could work with future teachers.”
McCool is an assistant professor in the Mathematics Department at the University of Wisconsin at Lacrosse. She researches how students learn and puts that research into the hands of teachers. When she looks back at what she had to do to reach her goal, she has no regrets.
“I wouldn’t change anything. The whole program was awesome. I am very thankful for the experience I had at Illinois State. It was totally worth the four-hour car ride.”