PCTC Professor Melissa White Earns Master’s Degree and More
01/30/2018 - 11:53
PCTC Professor Melissa White Earns Master’s Degree and More
While taking classes for her Master’s degree, Melissa White found her workload stressful as her lessons and assignments piled up. At the same time, White herself was teaching classes daily with about 20 students each, who all felt the same way she did.
“You forget the pressure of wanting to make a really good grade, and instead of just learning the information, that grade is important,” White said. “It really gave me a better idea of what my students were going through.”
But after a few years of the cycle of taking and teaching classes, White has earned her Master’s degree in Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics from Michigan State University, and is now the program director for this same major at Pierpont Community and Technical College (PCTC). With this level of education and experience in the field, the job and its tasks are bread and butter for White, but in this tenure she has also answered many a query about what she and other medical lab technicians do.
“It’s kind of divided into four main groups. There’s microbiology testing, which you see what’s causing disease, you can do that; Hematology where they look for blood cells to see if you’re Anemic or have leukemia; chemistry, you do all the tests like hard enzymes to see if someone’s having a heart attack, cholesterol levels, glucose levels; and you don’t really think about it but we do blood banking. We’re the people who find compatible blood for you,” White said. “It’s kind of like the scientists who do all the diagnostic testing.”
White herself was also in the dark about the life of a lab technician, but found the major going into college.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting into either, but my mother was a nurse. I knew I'd like to do something medical but I didn’t really want that much patient contact. But I really enjoyed chemistry and biology courses in high school so I was more science-oriented,” she said. “I’m a perfect example of how you can go from high school to a job and then continue.”
After initially earning her two-year degree from Fairmont State College and her B.A. in science from West Liberty University, White spent years working at Stone Wall Jackson Memorial Hospital until moving on to teach at PCTC. But as she explained, finding a job in her field was less of a search and more of just picking where she wanted to go.
“I’ve never had a hard time. I’ve mostly worked in West Virginia but I also worked in Maryland outside the D.C. area, and when I moved there, there wasn’t supposed to be very many jobs, but I interviewed with five or six places and just chose which job I wanted,” White said.
This isn’t just specific to White’s case, as she said graduates of PCTC’s med tech program have a 100 percent employment rate. After years of work there, White wanted a change that didn’t involve management, but still involved hands-on work. The year was 2013 when she saw an open position at PCTC.
“When a full-time position came up I thought ‘Oh that would be interesting.’ I really was never interested in managing, I was more interested in science work, so I came here and got the job and really liked it,” White said.
But going back to school was White’s choice, as she wanted to serve her students the best she could.
“It had been since 1988 since I had been at school as a student, so I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do. I knew what was going on now, but I didn’t know where testing was going, so to better serve my students I went back to school,” White said.
White completed the program for her MA completely online, which she at first found difficult, but got used to over time. And going back to taking classes ended up bringing her closer to her students, both in and outside the classroom.
“It was kind of new for me, and when I did that I saw that it was kind of interesting not to have your classroom just be a single location. My classmates were people from all over, California, Alabama, Florida and almost all of us were working and something else,” White said. “That first year my two oldest children were in college at the same time too, so we were all a little stressed that year. I think being in school at the same time they were, it was kind of nice; we had things to talk about with that.”
She also found new ways of teaching her own students.
“I think it’s helped me see that for us to serve the students better we probably need to mix in a little online learning. I have students who are interested in the field and say ‘I can’t quit my job for two years, I need to be a little flexible.’ A lot of what we do is hands-on and you have to be here for labs, but at the beginning a lot of it’s lecture and I think we can mix in online and have more people take it,” White said.
In addition to being the med tech program director at PCTC, White is teaching six classes this semester, three within the med tech major and three in the health sciences major. The work is never boring, however, as the Pierpont high-tech facility has a lab filled with equipment used in real hospitals, and White said her teaching methods have been improved by her recent schooling.
“You think you just lecture and give homework and that kind of thing, but by having it this way in my online courses, I make them kind of read the book and do assignments on their own and we come in and do activities in class that back it up in discussion rather than me just telling them information.”
In lab classes, the students take time peeking through microscopes, testing samples of synthetic blood or blood drawn from each other and making diagnostics based on the information they deduce. White is thankful she is able to teach students both face to face and in an online format, taking aspects of the best of both worlds in her methods. Looking back on the years sine 2015 when she began earning this degree, it’s almost unbelievable to White that it’s over for now.
“I think back and sometimes I don’t know how I did it now. It seems kind of crazy,” White said.
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