Melinda Whitehead’s online education experience with The University of Southern Mississippi embodies distance learning. Across continents, an ocean and multiple time zones, Whitehead recently secured her elementary education degree from USM through its Teacher Assistant Program (TAP).
The fall 2016 graduate, a missionary who lives and works in South Korea, completed the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education’s TAP while working full-time at Daekwang English Academy in Poseung, South Korea.
A native of Lubbock, Texas, Whitehead attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, earning an associate’s degree in 2013. She transferred to USM after learning about the TAP program while working as a teacher assistant in Pascagoula.
“This was a perfect fit for me since I needed to continue working while pursuing my degree,” Whitehead said. “I love being in the classroom, and the TAP program allowed me to do that while taking classes online.”
While still working on her degree this past year, Whitehead was an assistant teacher at Daekwang English Academy, helping teach English to Korean students ages 4-18. Upon returning to South Korea, she will continue working with the academy’s English program as a coordinator and administrator.
“Being in the TAP program was a blessing.” Whitehead said. “I was able to work while I pursued my degree and continue being in the classroom working with students. For me, working the classroom is just another part of ministry.”
Whitehead returned to Mississippi to complete the program’s required on-site practicum with a student teaching assignment at nearby Oak Grove Lower Elementary School. She praised her co-teacher, Kim Harrison, and teaching practicum supervisor Kim Walker, a clinical instructor in the USM Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education.
“Kim Harrison has been teaching for over 20 years and has a wealth of information to share with new teachers. She was one of the best teachers that I have ever worked with. Oak Grove has so many wonderful teachers and those that were in Ms. Harrison’s pod were all very helpful and supportive of me and my education. And Kim Walker continued to be supportive and helpful during my time student teaching.”
Walker said Whitehead is “a great ambassador for the program." "She’s done a wonderful job, going above and beyond what was required of her and seeking feedback," Walker said.
Because of her family obligations, Whitehead returned to South Korea before the fall commencement ceremonies to rejoin her husband and fellow missionary, Tony, and their daughter Allessa.
“Being so far away from them was difficult, and so I chose not to walk across the stage for graduation as they could not be there with me,” she said. “I was very anxious to get back to them since I had not been able to see them since the semester started in August.”
But during the last weeks of her student teaching assignment, she felt joy knowing she would soon realize her dream of becoming a certified teacher and USM graduate.
“Being an alumna of USM, where so many great teachers have graduated, is amazing,” Whitehead said. “I have heard from many that USM produces the best teachers, and I feel blessed beyond measure to hopefully be considered one of them.”
To learn more about the Teacher Assistant Program at Southern Miss, visit https://www.usm.edu/elementary-special-technology-education/teacher-assi.... Learn more about Whitehead and her family’s mission work in South Korea on Facebook at “Mission Korea-Ministry.”