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"I benefited from the Para2Teacher program immediately. Right away, I was able to adjust the way I teach and started collaborating with my peers to better serve our students. I now have the tools to be a highly-effective educator thanks to the coursework and hands-on student practicum experience."

Maria Vondas '22, M.Ed.

Point Park University's School of Education is helping to develop a sustainable pipeline of educators as the latest cohort of its Para2Teacher program celebrates a 100% completion rate.

Point Park is one of just two universities that partners with Pittsburgh Public Schools' on the Para2Teacher initiative, which provides paraprofessionals working in the district the opportunity to earn a master's degree in education with Instructional I Certification. Students receive their full salaries, tuition assistance, test prep assistance and preferential hiring while enrolled in the program.

In the Q&A below, hear from Maria Vondas, M.Ed., and Robin Tolliver-Watkins, M.Ed., two of the graduates from the 2022 cohort, about how they have benefited from the program.  
Pictured is Maria Vondas and her family. Submitted photo.
Maria Vondas '22 and her family

Maria Vondas, M.Ed. in Special Education

Job title: Education assistant 
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa.
High school: Oakland Catholic High School
Now living in: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Hobbies/interests: Fundraising for Make-A-Wish in memory of my son, Christian, drawing, reading, exploring and learning
Connect with Maria: LinkedIn

What knowledge or skills have you gained through the program?

I learned how I can best help my students succeed. Growing up as a child with a variety of undiagnosed learning disabilities, I never believed that I would ever love learning, let alone perform well as a student. Point Park gave me the opportunity to figure out what works best for me and reinforced my belief that everyone can achieve excellence. 

How do you see this program benefiting you in your current role and future career goals?

I benefited from the Para2Teacher program immediately. Right away, I was able to adjust the way I teach and started collaborating with my peers to better serve our students. I now have the tools to be a highly-effective educator thanks to the coursework and hands-on student practicum experience. This program inspired me to love learning, something I dreaded for most of my life, so I am continuing my own education at Point Park in the Leadership and Administration program. One of my goals that I developed through this program is to help my students foster their love of learning and feel confident in themselves as both current and life-long learners.

You recently won the Outstanding Non-Instructional Staff Award from Pittsburgh's Education Partnership. What does this award mean to you?

To have the support of my peers through nominations and votes confirms that I am making positive, effective impacts on my students. This is also proof that I learned a great deal at Point Park and from my many amazing mentors, students and colleagues. I am incredibly grateful for having so many people support me and cheer me on.

I am also thankful for the support from my family and inspiration I find in the memory of my oldest son, Christian Connelly. Christian was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2009, and though he fought valiantly, he lost his heroic battle three days shy of his 10th birthday in 2011. In memory of Christian, I – along with so much support from family, friends, and our community – have raised over $130,000 for our local chapter of Make-A-Wish. Christian's tenacity, constant positive outlook and his affinity for fun continue to inspire me to face and embrace challenges in life and to find the joy in working through them. My surviving children also inspire me with their perseverance, endless empathy and kindness.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

One of my favorite quotes is from Temple Grandin, a renowned scientist who has autism, "The world needs all types of minds."

Pictured is Robin Tolliver-Watkins. Submitted photo.
Robin Tolliver-Watkins '22

Robin Tolliver-Watkins, M.Ed. in Special Education

Update as of August 2022: Robin has landed a role as an early intervention itinerant teacher with Pittsburgh Public Schools. 

Job title: Education assistant
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa.
High school: Westinghouse High School
Now living in: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Hobbies/interests: Gardening and crafting
Connect with RobinLinkedIn and Instagram

What appealed to you about the Para2Teacher program?

The program was entirely online, which worked well with my busy work and family schedules. My sons attend college locally so this program allowed me to assist them when needed. I was able to obtain my teaching certification in just two years. 

What do you feel are the most valuable benefits of the program?

The flexible online learning format was beneficial, and the coursework was comprehensive. The faculty were very knowledgeable and supported me throughout the program. They made themselves available to assist me with my educational questions and needs. 

Were there any faculty members who positively impacted your Point Park experience?

Many faculty members had an impact on me, especially my instructor and student teaching supervisor, Lori Sutton. During my experience, I faced many adverse challenges that made me question if I should continue with my education. Mrs. Sutton was very empathetic and supportive during those times, and I attribute my perseverance in the program to her.

Learn more about the School of Education in the video below:

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