Sylvia Okada Yamada earns her UGA degree from Sao Paulo, Brazil

Story courtesy of Nancy Byron, Marketing Manager for UGAonline

Sylvia Okada Yamada is taking the opportunity to “study abroad” at the University of Georgia without ever setting foot on the Athens campus.

Yamada, who has earned degrees from universities in the Philippines and Japan, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational psychology and gifted and creative education from the University of Georgia from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she lives with her husband and two sons. The Philippine native is afforded the opportunity to pursue her dream of teaching by earning her degree through UGAonline.

Yamada’s undergraduate degrees have enabled her to follow her passion of teaching English to nonnative speakers. But after discovering that one of her sons is a gifted learner, Yamada wanted to use her passion for teaching to provide improved resources and attention to gifted students. Recognizing the need for advanced training, she decided to pursue a master’s degree, with two critical requirements for the institutions to which she’d apply.

“I wanted to get into gifted and creative education, and given my circumstances, I did a lot of research and it took me about four months,” Yamada said. “I even had a spreadsheet looking at schools because it had to be a good program from a good school, and it had to be completely online. Fortunately, UGA offered all that.”

Given her low confidence level with technology, Yamada admits she was at first somewhat anxious about this new way of learning.

“It’s great to have this opportunity to study and pursue what I want with the convenience,” Yamada, who expects to earn her degree in fall 2014, said. “I’d never taken any online courses, so this was my first experience. I started in the summer and I’m not actually tech savvy, and I wondered how I’d do with it. Once the course started and I got into it, I stopped thinking about the technology and found myself immersed in my coursework.”

Yamada has found that what she has learned thus far already has practical applications, which reemphasizes the idea that she’s moving in the right direction.

“I volunteer teach at my sons’ school, and that’s where I basically apply whatever I’m learning, which makes it richer,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have this opportunity to volunteer at their school, an American school in Brazil. Everything I’m learning is meaningful, especially in terms of curriculum.”

Yamada said her ultimate career goal is to become a gifted education coordinator at an international school or setting. She’s excited about the next step because it will represent the best mesh of her personal, professional and academic interests.

“I chose this (master’s program) for personal reasons, and I also think it’s a good way for me to re-enter school and re-align my professional objectives with my personal ones. It’s been a huge learning curve for me because my degrees aren’t in education, but I would say (with) teaching English, the experience is there. It’s a huge learning curve, but if you’re into it, you can definitely succeed.”

She added that she one day hopes to visit the campus where she’ll have earned her degree.

“I’ve never been to the campus,” Yamada said. “But when we do go back to the U.S., that’s going to be our first destination. I absolutely plan to come and see Athens.”