Theresa Maughan M’24 attains lifetime dream with master’s degree

Theresa Maughan M’24 at East Orange STEM Academy High School in New Jersey
During the 2023-2024 academic year, Theresa Maughan M’24 taught Early U.S. History to 10th graders, Modern U.S. History to 11th graders, and AP African American Studies to seniors at East Orange STEM Academy High School in New Jersey.

As a history teacher of 42 years, Theresa Maughan M’24 has taught many lessons. But over the past 11 years, she personally embodied one of life’s greatest lessons—it’s never too late to realize your dreams. As a 2024 recipient of a master’s degree in American history through the Gettysburg College-Gilder Lehrman Institute (GLI) M.A. program, her diploma serves as a symbol of hard work, dedication, and a dream fulfilled.

“It’s a life lesson to my children and my granddaughter—I dedicated my capstone to my granddaughter,” said Maughan. “One day, I would like her to take a look at that capstone and say, ‘She stayed the course.’”

It’s a degree that Maughan, 64, originally wanted to pursue 30 years ago. Instead, on the advice of her colleagues—who thought she would make an excellent principal one day—she obtained her first master’s in administration and supervision in 1993.

“But my heart always wanted my master’s in American history,” said Maughan, a self-proclaimed “history geek.”

Theresa Maughan M’24 on the cover of the New Jersey Education Association Review
Theresa Maughan M’24 appeared on the cover of the New Jersey Education Association Review when she was named the 2021-2022 New Jersey teacher of the year.

Maughn has taught the full spectrum of history and social studies subjects and made a name for herself in the process. In 2021, Maughan was named Essex County’s teacher of the year. One year later, she was hailed as New Jersey’s teacher of the year. The following year, in 2023, she was recognized on the national level, as one of five American teachers to receive the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence from the National Education Association Foundation, which came with a $10,000 prize. Those three accolades were followed by a crowning achievement—her master’s in American history—in 2024.

“The beauty of the program,” Maughan said, “is that there are people from all different phases of their careers. For some of us, it was an opportunity to pursue something for the sheer joy of learning about American history—I had that in common with quite a few others.”

She’ll continue to infuse her classroom with her passion for history and now knowledge gained through the master’s program at East Orange STEM Academy High School, a Title 1-designated district to which she’s devoted the majority of her teaching career. Most recently, Maughan spent the 2023-2024 academic year teaching Early U.S. History to 10th graders, Modern U.S. History to 11th graders, and AP African American Studies to seniors.

“To improve my content area and continually enhance my history background is always an asset for a teacher,” said Maughan of her newly-minted master’s. “The professors I had were all experts in their subject areas—I feel that I learned from some of the best.”

Theresa Maughan M’24
Theresa Maughan M’24

Maughan calls the Gettysburg College-GLI M.A. program in American history—open to K-12 educators, community college instructors and additional professionals around the globe—“very affordable and flexible.” In fact, the program—fully online—is among the most cost-effective master’s programs in the country, totaling $7,500 in its entirety.

After initially taking spring and summer classes through two other universities, she jumped at the chance to complete her degree when Gettysburg College, in 2022, became affiliated with the Gilder Lehrman Institute (GLI) M.A. program. The job of America’s history teachers, she believes, is vital—and Gettysburg’s name recognition as a consequential place in history produces consequential people driven to Do Great Work.

“I think it’s important for my students to get the context behind the things they’re experiencing today,” Maughan said. “By helping them understand the true history of the U.S., they will see that they can be changemakers, that they can steer and correct things in this country.”

It’s a notion summarized on her classroom’s poster, featuring the quote, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something,” by John Lewis, a civil rights leader and congressman.

“That’s the essence of history and social studies,” said Maughan, who knows firsthand the power of speaking up thanks to her own 7th grade history teacher who played a consequential role in her life. When Maughan’s family, as natives of Belize, faced deportation from the U.S., her teacher rallied other teachers to collectively help the family of six become American citizens.

That teacher’s actions ultimately inspired Maughan’s career path in education.

Today, 52 years after that life-changing event, Maughan’s passion to inspire the next generation through history burns brighter than ever. She’s especially excited to share her capstone research with her students, which ties local Black history into a greater American chapter of history.

“My master’s capstone was about the Black political conferences and conventions in the 1970s—and nearby Newark played a pivotal role in the Black political conferences that occurred just after the Newark uprising in 1967,” Maughan said. “I loved the freedom to pursue my capstone—there was no rigidity limiting where I could go with my research.”

Ultimately, learning, Maughan believes, is a lifelong process.

“I think the greatest thing I’ve been able to accomplish is continuing to find joy in what I do,” said Maughan. “I think that stems from always trying to revitalize my outlook through professional development, taking classes whenever I have the opportunity—being able to stay the course like a long-distance runner.”

By Karen Hendricks
Photos courtesy of Theresa Maughan M’24
Posted: 07/10/24

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