After Tiana Kerner’s father passed away, she left her career as a probation and parole agent to become the executor of his will.
“It was a lengthy process, so I chose to step back from work and focus on that,” she said. “Then, the pandemic hit, so the kids were staying at home to do school. I felt like I needed to be there for them.”
To pave the way for her return to the workforce, Kerner enrolled in the online Master of Arts in Professional Communication program at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. She is on track to graduate in 2022.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but life starts picking up after you graduate with your bachelor’s degree,” she said. “You start making those excuses like, ‘I have too much adulting and too much life to do to worry about a master’s program.’
“The restrictions of having to do it on campus and be at a certain place at a certain time seemed overwhelming — even though it probably wouldn’t have been.”
Once Kerner, 40, finished her executor duties, she had extra time on her hands. Serendipity took it from there.
“There was no better time,” she said. “I saw that UW-Parkside, where I got my undergrad, was offering a fully online master’s degree program. It was all lining up in a way that made it almost impossible for me not to do it.”
The online format was crucial to Kerner because she has three stepchildren — Owen (15), Nadia (13) and Jackson (5) — and a husband, Jay, at home.
“I like the flexibility of it,” she said. “The communication professors all require online discussions. There would be an irony of having a communication program without any communication. It is going well. It’s very manageable.”
Kerner grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication in 2004.
“I enjoyed my time at UW-Parkside as an undergrad,” she said. “The communication department is excellent. There are two professors still there from my undergrad. I had one of them for a class this past summer, and I am currently in a class with the other one. That’s pretty cool.”
So far, Enacting Leadership, taught by Dr. Hilary Rasmussen, is one of Kerner’s favorite courses in the online M.A. in Professional Communication program curriculum.
“I liked the structure, the way that Dr. Rasmussen set the course up. The in-depth conversations that we had were about what makes a good leader and how rhetorical leadership operates and creates meaning,” said Kerner, noting the applicability of that knowledge to all work arenas.
Even though Kerner has just under half of the program remaining, she sees how valuable a master’s degree will be in her journey back to employment.
“Communication is an undervalued and underappreciated area of study,” she said. “I don’t understand why, because we have to communicate to do every single job that exists. You have to be able to communicate effectively to accomplish what you need to do every day, in every facet of life.”
Kerner enjoys having her family and friends encouraging her while she works toward the master’s degree.
“Everyone is very excited for me,” she said. “Some thought I was crazy, while others thought it was awesome.”
As a bonus, Kerner and her stepchildren have bonded over schoolwork since she enrolled at UW-Parkside in February 2021.
“It’s been fun because Owen will come home and discuss something he’s doing in class and it will relate to something I am doing in class,” she said. “That makes for interesting conversation. I have learned things from him, and I am sure I have given him information that makes him look cool when he goes back to class.”
Kerner has her sights set on becoming a college professor and/or an independent communication consultant once she graduates from the online M.A. in Professional Communication program. She is happy that she came home to UW-Parkside after 17 years away.
“Whatever excuses you have for not entering the program, you can probably overcome them,” she said. “Whatever feels like an obstacle most likely isn’t as big as you think. An online program takes away some of the issues and the pressures.
“You have to come into it ready to take a more analytical approach to communication. People think that communication is a simple thing, but it’s as intricate as any other area of study. The program’s been great. It has exceeded my expectations.”
Learn more about UW-Parkside’s online M.A. in Professional Communication program.