School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Becky Shillington

PME Assessment and Evaluation

Becky Shillington

Balancing School and Work

By Natalia Mukhina

When opportunities for personal or professional growth arise, “Just say ‘yes’, whenever you can,” says Becky Shillington.  “When you are young, you need to extend your scope and take advantage of any opportunities that come your way because that is where experience comes from.”

A native of Kingston, Becky did her undergrad in Biology and English at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, then returned home to enter the workforce. Queen’s first came into her life in 2011 as a place of employment, as she started working in the university’s Residence Life Office and has risen to the manager position she currently holds. “I was lucky to get a job at Queen’s,” says Becky. “Queen’s has such a dynamic working environment that gives you the chance to try various opportunities to know where to go next.”

For Becky, working at a postsecondary institution means that you will always be learning in some way and will always be inspired by the idea of education. It is therefore not surprising that Becky eventually made the decision to pursue her master’s degree. The prospective graduate program had to meet two crucial requirements for Becky: to be practical and to fit well with her lifestyle as a young professional with a full-time job.

“When looking at master’s programs, I really wanted something I could apply. Obviously, having master’s credentials helps you move upwards in your career track, and I wanted to have those degree letters after my name,” recalls Becky with a smile “but I also wanted a program that was relevant to my professional occupation. This program produced results I would be able to use in practice.”

The Professional Master of Education (PME) program turned out to be a perfect match for Becky’s aspirations. She became a part of the first cohort of the PME. She had never dreamt of being a teacher, yet she found that it was the PME curriculum in the field of assessment and evaluation that most thoroughly answered all her specific professional inquiries.

“A significant part of my current work at Residence Life involves assessment,” explains Becky. “With the people I manage (8 direct reports and 140 student staff members) we do things, for example, like performance evaluations to make sure our assessment tools match what we are trying to do. How do we evaluate our impact on the student experience here at Queen’s? How do we make sure our interview framework fits the goals we have set up in our office? The great thing about the PME is that you can apply the knowledge acquired to any field that deals with people.”

Using another example to support her words, Becky recalls the favorite course she took while doing the program; it was about organizational behaviour and leadership. While studying the course, she enjoyed thinking about the management styles of herself and her colleagues and how they fit together. “I have certainly gained a better understanding of myself as a professional, my own goals and career, and how we have to work to create a department that is functional and efficient.”

Luck would also have it that Becky could work on actual work projects for school and vice versa: “It was great to be able to do something for class and then bring that to work the next day and implement it.” The program is structured to provide theoretical framework and an examination of the current trends in the field, and the students’ job, from Becky’s perspective, is to take that theory and bring it to life, in practice, and make real world connections to the field of expertise.

The online nature of the program gave Becky flexibility in her work and routine. Yet, she clearly sees the pros and cons of online education. As a Graduate Student Ambassador, Becky communicates with many prospective students who are considering taking online education at Queen’s. Many of the questions come from those who are currently working and are not necessarily able to put their career and salary on hold to pursue their graduate studies. “However, I don’t think that online learning is for everyone,” Becky argues. “It is not for those who need the motivation of the classroom setting. You need to be self-regulated and able to get things done. But if you can set deadlines and work on your own timeline, online learning is a really good option.”

When asked about her hobbies, Becky merrily responds: “Movies and concerts! These are my true passion.” She has a lot of TV shows to catch up on and many plans to take a breather after her intense learning. At the same time, she agrees that she will miss school. “My work will always come first, but I can imagine myself going back to school again.”

Becky Shillington sitting behind a computer in a library.