ESU Student Returns to Finish What She Started
On the morning of Saturday, December 15 – commencement day at East Stroudsburg University – Kayla Hahn received a text message from her father – “Are you sure this is really happening?” Hahn responded with a photo of herself in her graduation cap and gown “It’s really happening.”
Hahn, an education major from Easton, Pa., started college in 2008. She attended Northampton County Community College for one year, then transferred to ESU. She was majoring in secondary education and earth and space science, and she was involved in clubs on campus. In 2011, she became a resident advisor (RA). She was a typical college student.
“I don’t know. It all became too much,” Hahn explained. She was taking 18 credits, working as an RA, and had a part-time job on the weekends. “I burned out. I had to leave.”
Knowing she needed to find a job immediately, a friend suggested she apply for a position at a dental practice in New Jersey that was hiring. She began there as an insurance coordinator and eventually became the office manager. She commuted over an hour each day, and she didn’t mind the work. Though, some days she wondered, “Is this what I want to do every day for the rest of my life?”
When she was 26, her boyfriend was finishing work on his master’s degree. “He said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if I finished my degree and you finished yours?’ I thought about it and decided it would be great.”
Ready to finish what she started, Hahn reached back out to ESU and began taking courses again during the fall 2017 semester. Robert Cohen, Ph.D., professor and chair of physics, was her advisor. “He remembered me. He had a whole file on me – the work I had done, the work I needed to complete.” He set her up with an independent study, which required fewer hours on campus and allowed her to continue to work. “Dr. Cohen really helped me get on track.”
But, other classes needed to be taken, and they got in the way of her job. She was faced with a difficult decision. “I decided to quit my job at the dentist office in New Jersey. I was lucky to have found another office closer to home, in Allentown, that was willing to work around my class schedule,” Hahn said. “They hired me as an office manager.”
During that winter she repeated an astronomy course just to brush up. In spring 2018, she took an English as a second language (ESL) course in the education department. Then, in fall 2018, it was time to student teach.
Two of Hahn’s professors, Diane Holben, Ed.D., assistant professor of professional and secondary education, and Jan Gebert, instructor of professional and secondary education, supported her as she began this next step in her journey. “I told them I hadn’t stepped foot in a classroom in seven years. They gave me all the tools I needed and molded me into a confident teacher.”
During the fall 2018 semester, Hahn was a student teacher for six weeks at Liberty High School in the Bethlehem Area School District. She taught earth and space science and astronomy to students in grades 10-12. “It was a good thing I took that extra astronomy course,” she said. Then, she went on to student teach at Wilson Intermediate School in the Wilson Area School District, teaching seventh grade earth science. Looking back on her student teaching experience Hahn said, “On my first day I was terrified. My second day, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do every day for the rest of my life. I wanted to be a teacher.”
On December 6, she received a phone call from Liberty High School offering a day-to-day substitute position that will become a long-term substitute position in January. Four days later she began teaching. And, on December 15, she responded to her father’s text – she was really graduating from college! “I can’t believe how quickly everything happened. I couldn’t imagine my life falling so perfectly into place, but it has.”
If Hahn had to give advice to her students about college it would to go in with an open mind. When she was younger she enjoyed her English classes, and had no interest in science. “College can change you. You can find interests you never knew you had. Be open to changing.”
She’d also tell students to “Stick it out, even on the hardest days, and even if your journey doesn’t play out exactly how you think it will when you are 17 years old.” Hahn said all the struggles, the nights of sitting at home wondering if quitting her job was the right decision, all the hard work, it all pays off.
“It is worth it when you realize you have the support of professors who genuinely care, and you land your dream job. It is all worth it when you hear your parents, grandparents and boyfriend cheering for you as your name is called on graduation day!”