Education Alumni Spotlight: Rebecca Collins

Rebecca Collins graduated from Nyack’s School of Education in 2011 with a degree in Early Childhood/Childhood Education, and then again in 2013 with a Master’s of Childhood Special Education. Since graduating, Rebecca has taken a job at a large public school district in Arizona, where she is a K-3 resource teacher. She is also the team lead for the special education program at the elementary school and the regional resource leader, supporting resource teachers at 7 elementary schools within the district. At home, Rebecca is a wife and foster mother to a 22 month old little boy named Jesse, who is their second foster child.

In honor of the SoE’s 50 anniversary, Rebecca shared some of her favorite memories and the way that Nyack has prepared her for her career:

My favorite memories of fostering are the moments that show how a loving connection has grown with a child who came as a stranger.  Our current foster son came to us on Easter Day 2017, and he cried and screamed so much during the first month that my husband had difficulty feeling any connection with him.  Now every time my husband or I come home Jesse gets a huge smile, starts squealing excitedly, and runs to give us giant hugs.  We can’t help but smile when we see his enthusiasm and love.  The joy of these times help us through the tough court hearings, constant meetings and visits, and the unknowns of how long this little boy we love will stay with us.  It is a reminder that although parts of this journey are extremely difficult, it’s all worth it to make a difference in Jesse’s life and to be walking in the path God has planned.

Nyack prepared me as a teacher through the training I received in the undergraduate childhood education program and master’s special education program.  I use the strategies and content I learned there everyday with my students.  Aside from teaching skills, the professors at Nyack helped encourage and shape two of my biggest strengths as a teacher: my positive attitude and a commitment to doing my job with excellence.  My professors viewed preparing teachers for real life as more than asking college students to complete assignments to prove knowledge of teaching. They really looked at the deeper heart and mind skills a teacher needs, and I know I have been successful because of these deeper skills and the love for teaching that was instilled by the staff at Nyack.  Even the leadership skills I am using this year in the district were started at Nyack when I held a leadership position in the Early Childhood Educators club.  

My life as a foster mom has also been impacted by my time at Nyack.  My undergraduate early childhood classes taught me how to engage toddlers in learning constantly through play and everyday activities.  This is exactly what I do with any child who is placed in my home.  Often these children have delays in different areas, and I feel confident that I understand developmental milestones and can help my current and future foster children grow towards reaching these milestones.  Even the business side of being a foster parent and working with many people from all different backgrounds and viewpoints was something Nyack exposed me to through its values of diversity and loving others, even if you have different views.

50th Anniversary Interview: Dr. Schepens

Dr. Bennett Schepens has been working at Nyack College since 1995, when he started as the Dean of the College of Education, Head of the Division of Education, and Dept. Chair of Secondary Education. In 2007, he became the Assistant Provost and Dean for Graduate and Professional Programs, and he has remained in those positions ever since.

If you’re a part of the SoE, or if you follow my blogs, you are familiar with the SALT conceptual framework. What you might not know, however, if who created it.

Dr. Schepens was one of the people that invented the SALT model, and it has had a very strong impact on him. He said that the SALT model contains values that he feels, “express the Nyack ethos by starting with service and including the elements of academics and leadership to produce teachers of excellence.” When asked how he is being SALT in his own life, he said, “I try to teach with a strong academic base.  I serve students in the best way I can to facilitate their learning.  I try to lead by example by being a good teacher.” He said that he also does the same in his local church and in his family.

In addition to creating the SALT conceptual framework, Dr. Schepens is responsible for Nyack’s first NCATE accreditation, which is something that he is very proud of.  Dr. Schepens also played a part in the creation of Nyack’s New York City program and the MS in Education.

Since he began at Nyack, Dr. Schepens has seen many changes in the School of Education, namely changes in enrollment and degree choice trends. One change he hopes to see in the future is the growth of undergraduate degree programs. He said that he also hopes Nyack’s School of Education will receive a CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) accreditation.

One thing Dr. Schepens would like to remain the same is the close-knitted nature of the SoE’s faculty. He said that they “spend a lot of time working together and it develops strong relationships.  When someone leaves it is like losing family.” Another aspect that he would like to remain the same is the level of care the faculty has for the students, which is something that he believes makes Nyack special. Dr. Schepens values the amount of personal attention the professors give to their students and the relationships that are formed as a result, both in the SoE and the rest of the college.

When asked what advice he would like to give, Dr. Schepens said, “Walk in the path the Lord sets before you,” and, “Talk less and involve students in activities more.”


50th Anniversary Interview: Professor Miriam Velez

Professor Miriam Velez of the School of Education has been working at Nyack College since 2000, when she began as the Director for Academic Development. She has also served as the Student Teacher Coordinator for the Manhattan Undergraduate Program for the last sixteen years and has been the director for Masters in Inclusive and Bilingual Education for the last three years. Here, in this series of stories about the 50th Anniversary of the School, she discusses the most important part of her work as an educator of educators.

To Professor Velez, the SALT model at the School of Education is not just a framework, but it is her “philosophy of life” and guide to teaching. With regards to the model, Professor Velez said this:

Service:  I strive to be a servant model for the students by having an open door policy to my office and my home.

Academics is the pursuit of truth and knowledge. In the School of Education, knowledge and truth begin with the fear of the Lord. I teach the Christian Teacher course, and I often remind the students that God is not pleased with mediocre teachers. We must strive to be effective teachers, growing professionally and spiritually.

Leadership: Luke 6:40 states,  “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”  This is a sobering thought, to think they [teachers]  will impact the lives of their students not just by their teaching, but by what they model for them.

Teaching requires a commitment to excellence, always striving to become the Christian educator that will open his classroom doors, as well as his heart, to all children, especially [to] disadvantaged students.

Throughout her time at the School of Education, Professor Velez has been most proud of one thing: the people. She said that she is proud of the current students and alumni because they “become kingdom agents, teachers with a godly vision for all the children they serve. Regardless of where they serve . . . they [bring] God’s love and grace to all children.”

To all of the future educators out there, Professor Velez gave this advice:

Teach each day showing and reflecting God’s love in everything [you] do and say. Be thankful for the students God gives [you]. Always teach with excellence and from the heart as [you] provide a Kingdom class education to all students. Recognize that God holds his people to a higher standard to improve us so that the children will benefit from inspired and highly effective teaching.

Lastly, when asked what advice she would have been given as a new teacher, Professor Velez said this:

The goal of Christian teaching is always Christ likeness, regardless of the setting. . . It is important to focus on the children, not the institution.


50th Anniversary Interview: Dr. Christine Buel

Dr. Christine Buel is the director of the Master’s degree for Childhood and Special Education. She has worked at Nyack College for 30 years and has served as an Academic Development Specialist HEOP and an Assistant Professor of Childhood Education.

For those of you that don’t know, part of the School of Education’s mission involves following their SALT model (Service, Academics, Leadership, and Teaching) to prepare future educators, as well as to further develop current ones. The SALT model involves the whole person, not only when the individual is in the classroom. (To learn more about the SALT model, click here.) This SALT model not only affects the curriculum and how it is taught at the college, it affects those who teach it.

Dr. Buel said that the SALT model, specifically the Service aspect, has affected her the most. She enjoys building into her students, praying with them and having them over for meals. She has also shared her passion for the Nyack Homeless Project and Soup Angels, and she has had students serve there with her. Additionally, she brought students with her for several years to the One 2 One Tutoring Center in Nyack to minister to immigrant families.

Being a part of the Nyack School of Education community is something to be proud of for everyone, but especially for Dr. Buel, who has worked to shape it and mold it for the past 30 years. She said that she is, “most proud of watching career changers enter into the School of Education at Nyack and making profound changes in their lives.” Not only that but she also enjoys, “helping them pass the New York State Assessments and negotiating the state requirements.” Throughout her time at Nyack, Dr. Buel has, “seen many changes in the school, such as the addition of the Masters program in childhood, special education, and TESOL.” She has also, “seen the hiring of many wonderful adjuncts to enrich our program.”

Dr. Buel would like to see the School of Education continue to grow and change, and her “vision for the SOE includes strong collaborations with schools serving special populations of students.”

When asked what advice she would give her younger self, she said:

The advice I would give myself is that teaching is fluid and never the same from year to year.  Learn to be flexible and look for the blessings of newness.  I would also work harder to help new Christian teachers understand their rights in the public school classroom and encourage them to be a witness in large and small ways.  I would look for teachers who reflect Christ in how they set up their classroom communities and I would showcase these classes.  


On The School of Education and its 50th Anniversary: An Interview with Professor Kristen Luba

     For those of you that don’t know, this year marks 50 years since the opening of the School of Education here at Nyack College. In honor of such, I have interviewed several of our School of Ed’s faculty and gotten their insight and perspective on the college, what changes they have witnessed in the School of Ed, and what being a part of the School of Education means to them. I hope you will join me these next weeks as we take a look back on where we came from and where we are headed as an institution.

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     Professor Kristen A. Luba, M.A. has been the Director of Assessment for the School of Education (SoE)  since 2008, but she has been working for Nyack since 1996 when she was a student assistant in the library.  After graduation in 2000, she began working full-time for the School of Education as the Administrative Assistant.  In 2006, Prof. Luba was promoted to Assistant to the Dean of Education for Assessment and Field Experience. Seeing as Professor Luba has been a part of the staff for over 20 years, she has watched and helped the School of Education to grow and flourish into what we know today.

     When asked what major changes the SoE has experienced, Professor Luba said that, “the number of certification programs available to candidates and the degree of difficulty in qualifying for and completing the programs,” has changed remarkably since she started back in 1996. She continued:

Back in the day, there were only Bachelor’s programs in Elementary Education, Music Education, and Secondary Education (English, Math, Social Studies).  Shortly after came the addition of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Early Childhood Education and then a boom in Master’s level programming–Inclusive Education, then Childhood Special Education, then Childhood Education, then the move of TESOL from undergrad to grad level.  Programs began to be offered at both campuses and online.  There have been some recent shifts in scaling back programs because of reduced enrollment, but the field of education has had many enrollment shifts over its history in this country, and I expect numbers to increase again as the pendulum swings.


     Professor Luba also spoke about the changes that the state of New York has made that have impacted teacher candidates, specifically those changes that have made life more difficult for teacher candidates:

Students used to take two State exams (Liberal Arts & Sciences Test and the Assessment of Teaching Skills-Written) and be able to get their certification and a job, but the State soon added a third test (Content Specialty Test) and then increased the rigor of the first two tests (Academic Literacy Skills Test and Educating All Students exam) and added a fourth exam–a portfolio that required theoretical underpinnings for lesson plan decisions, data-driven decisions for instruction, student work samples, video evidence, and so on–called the edTPA.  Now the State has taken away the ALST but increased the rigor of the CSTs.  The net difference between 2000 and now is two more rigorous exams plus a portfolio exam!


     Things have changed not only for the students, but for the faculty and institution as well. Because of all of the changes from the state, the School of Education had to adjust their programs to better prepare the students for their certification exams, as well as the changing classroom. Since Professor Luba’s start at the SoE, “field experience hours have increased to 100+ prior to student teaching.” This means that teacher candidates are better prepared for their student teaching, though it does sometimes seem like a strain on the student’s schedule. Another change is that New York State, “added required workshops on violence prevention and Dignity of All Students Act and a requirement for a 3-credit course on educating exceptional learners, all of which the faculty accommodated.” Since Professor Luba’s arrival at the School of Education, New York “has also mandated national accreditation, which has meant the school’s redesign of curriculum, increased rigor in assessments, the addition of the Assessment of Dispositions, and stricter policies on admission.” This meant that the school changed from open admission to strict entrance requirements (50th percentile on SAT/ACT/GRE and a high school or previous college GPA of 3.0+).

     One thing that hasn’t changed in the School of Education is the faculty’s care and devotion to the students and to each other. This Christ-like attitude is one of the things that makes Nyack’s School of Education unique, but there are many other aspects that make it stand a head above the rest:

The diversity available in the college and local community is special.  The hard-core commitment of the faculty to train candidates in current methodologies and terminology is special–they don’t base their teaching on classroom experiences from 20 or 30 years ago!  The commitment to God is special and it reveals itself in classes, in departmental chapels, and even in email conversations and advising sessions.


While Professor Luba has had a large impact on the School of Education, it has impacted her as well. She said this about the matter:

Since I have ‘grown up’ in the School of Education for my entire adult life, I would say it has had an enormous impact on me.  Although there are many things I could say, these things mostly fit two categories: personal transformation and skill development.  I used to be a bit shy and insecure, but God has used my time studying under and working with the faculty in the School of Education to provide the encouragement and opportunities I needed to push my personal barriers and grow in confidence.  The faculty are not afraid to ask tough questions in a loving way in order to propel your growth.  At the same time, the context of education and educator preparation has been an ever-changing landscape over the last two decades.  This has provided many obstacles and many opportunities to rethink and reinvent processes and procedures within the SOE.  As a behind-the-scenes contributor, my skill set has grown so much in the use of a variety of technological platforms, in working collaboratively with school partners, in developing new assessments, in analyzing data sets, in writing reports at the institutional, state, and national levels, and so on.

Lastly, Professor Luba left one piece of advice for future Christian teachers: “Keep following God’s path for you.  It might not head the direction you think it will, but it will always lead to transformation along the way and to rest in the right destination.”


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