Jennifer McCluskey: SOE program opens doors

M.Ed. in Adult Learning program teaches theory and real-world examples; degree helps to advance career

Jennifer McCluskey works for Lee Hecht Harrison, a talent development and career transition company, as lead facilitator for one of its clients, Capital One. In addition to teaching and volunteering extensively throughout her career, McCluskey is a classically trained soprano who has worked as a professional singer. She earned her M.Ed. in Adult Learning from the VCU School of Education in 2017, an experience that helped her find her true vocation in life.

Jennifer McCluskey, a 2017 graduate of the VCU School of Education.
Jennifer McCluskey (M.Ed. '17)

What drew you to VCU SOE’s M.Ed. in Adult Learning program?

After earning my undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University, I moved to Richmond, got my teaching license, and was a social sciences teacher at the Governor's School for Government and International Studies for four years. When I had children, I stopped teaching for a while but maintained my license. I still missed teaching, so I taught Sunday school classes, volunteered at my church, and even had a short stint as director of adult ministries at a Methodist church.

I was about to let my recertification slip when I noticed the School of Education’s M.Ed. in Adult Learning program. It was different from every other education-related master’s program I had ever seen. What jumped out at me was that I could do anything with the degree. I wasn't locked into one career. All I saw were options, whereas every other program seemed to lead me down a road that I wasn’t sure I wanted.

What was your program experience like?

Dr. Robin Hurst, the program coordinator, was my guardian angel through the whole process. After learning about the program, I only had two weeks to make a decision. Dr. Hurst suggested that I take two classes and apply for the master's program later. I took the two classes and found that I was fascinated with the world of human resource development!

I applied to the master's program, and then had an amazing opportunity for a graduate assistantship with VCU Career Services. It fit perfectly with my schedule, but it required me to go full-time, so I signed up for a third class with Dr. Hurst. She also allowed me to take one of my second semester classes as asynchronous independent study, which allowed me to complete my master’s degree in one year and saved me a lot of time and money.

Dr. Hurst has adult learning theory down, and she’s able to draw on her knowledge as a practitioner. As one of the few people in my classes who did not have a full-time job in human resources, I found it fascinating to cross-pollinate with such a wide array of students, from professionals in learning and development, to MBA students, to VCU employees. We’re still a community today.

How did your degree impact your career?

After earning my master’s in 2017, I worked for a short time in the public school system. It was a great experience, but not a great fit for me. Thanks to my master's program and volunteering, I learned about an opportunity with Lee Hecht Harrison, contracting as a career consultant with Capital One’s Career Development Center. My master’s degree was integral to me being hired.

“If you are passionate about helping people reach their potential, and use their strengths and abilities to the fullest, you're going to find something to be passionate about in this program.”

I don’t have a corporate background; my experience is largely in academia, music and faith-based industries. However, my M.Ed. in Adult Learning degree gave me knowledge and an understanding of human resource development theories. Dr. Hurst brought real-world advice and examples into the classroom that helped me to develop confidence I never would have possessed otherwise.

Fast forward to now, and I have clients who range from call center personnel who deal with customer service, to senior managers at Capital One. There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not able to draw on something from my M.Ed. in Adult Learning program.

Any recent developments?

An opportunity arose this past February for Lee Hecht Harrison to help rewrite the entire curriculum for the career development classes we teach nationwide for Capital One. I threw my hat in the ring and said, “I can do this.”

I’m now lead facilitator for our Capital One contract, writing a curriculum that’s based in solid theory. With the pandemic, we’re teaching through Zoom to Capital One clients nationwide. The curriculum includes everything from resume writing to networking and strategic career management, and it’s positively impacting people's lives on so many different levels. I work with incredible coaches and facilitators who have decades of experience in human resource development.

Five years ago, I never could have envisioned doing something like this. I wouldn’t trade my experience as a high school teacher, which I needed, but I also needed the theory, the vocabulary and the confidence that the M.Ed. in Adult Learning program gave me. I’m grateful to Lee Hecht Harrison and Capital One, to VCU Career Services for taking a chance on me, and to Dr. Hurst and all of my professors for the opportunity to have such a direct impact on people's lives and their livelihood.

If you are passionate about helping people reach their potential, and use their strengths and abilities to the fullest, you're going to find something to be passionate about in this program.