It took only three months from the time Kelly Monroe M.Ed. '19 graduated with her Master of Education in Adult, Community and Professional Education degree from Carroll to put her final capstone project into action. Her aim: to bolster student success at Milwaukee Area Technical College, where she teaches in the funeral service program.
She walked the Commencement stage in May of 2019. By August of the same year, she submitted her first formal request to MATC administration—using her studies and project at Carroll as a foundation—to build a learning module into the curriculum as a special assignment. The module sought to help students not only learn material but to maintain more of the information as they advanced toward the National Board Exam to become licensed in funeral services.
One year after Monroe worked to incorporate the module into existing funeral service courses at MATC starting in the fall of 2019, the numbers are in. The first group of students who studied under the pilot program returned pass rates in January 2021 on the National Board Exam (NBE) ranging from 80% to 94%, depending on the content area. That compares to the program’s previous average of 50% to 60%.
“We are hopeful that the significant jump in pass rates is indicative of the benefits of the additional course,” Monroe said. “We took the students who maybe weren’t good test takers but did pay attention during school and got them over that threshold. But to a higher extent, it was really rewarding to see them get their license right away.”
And with the success of the program, MATC has provided Monroe the opportunity to build not just a supplemental learning module but a full online course into the curriculum that started in the fall of 2020. The curriculum spans over two semesters of one-credit courses. It is designed to provide weekly guided review that identify students’ learning styles, reinforce test-taking strategies, and simulate board exam experiences to mitigate high-stakes test anxiety and help determine overall board readiness.
Before Monroe’s studies at Carroll, her department at MATC tried to implement a mini review course for students prior to taking the NBE. It didn’t improve the pass rates, Monroe said. She said with the work she was able to tackle at Carroll in her education classes to better understand through research the way adults learn, she created a stronger course for her department with greater impact for the students. She designed her capstone understanding the need at MATC because she was living it as part of the faculty and sought solutions of how to help students in putting together her capstone titled, "Improving Pass Rates for the Licensure Exam For Funeral Directors: A Three-pronged Approach."
“The research steered me in the right direction of what the class looks like. It forced me to layout the whole Blackboard (an online course management system) shell. I would say without that research, we’d still be in the same boat,” Monroe said.
MATC hired Monroe as part of their faculty in 2014. She had extensive experience in funeral services—holding both a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UW-LaCrosse and an associate degree in applied science in funeral service and mortuary science from MATC. She became a licensed funeral home director and helped run her family’s funeral home business and worked for Krause Funeral Homes before then taking her skills to the classroom.
Her classroom gig, though, came with the requirement that she earn a master’s degree within five years of being hired. She looked at online courses that might help her fulfill the requirement while also handling a full-time teaching load. What she really wanted, though, was a meaningful experience and for Monroe, that meant face-to-face interactions with her classmates.
She found that at Carroll in its M.Ed. program, where she could combine online learning with one Saturday per month mixing conversations, ideas, and theories with instructors and other students.
“That model fit me the best,” said Monroe, who already knew about the Carroll experience through her daughter, Andrea Klohn, who received her undergraduate degree here in 2017. “I wasn’t just looking to get just another requirement done. I was looking to get some personal growth of it as well.”
While Monroe could have fulfilled her master’s degree requirement in several areas, she focused on education. Although hired for her professional expertise, she didn’t have an education background per se. So, she wanted to be a strong educator.
Now with new knowledge about learning theories, a better understanding of how adults learn, and marked improvements in students passing their National Board Exams—sending new licensed funeral directors into the field—Monroe reflects on her decision to come to Carroll.
“I really did the right thing,” she said.