The school year looked a little different this fall for Andrea Beery Nissley ’95, M’25, a middle school science teacher at Cornerstone Christian School for 23 years. There was the usual preparation of her classroom and meeting with families as new students arrived, as well as lesson plan writing and establishing learning objective goals. But Nissley found herself in new territory when she became a student again herself after enrolling in Bridgewater College’s master of arts in digital media strategy (MDMS) program.
“I love learning. It’s very exciting to be a student again,” she says.
Not surprisingly, Nissley has relied on her educator background to inform her perspective as a student. She understands that each professor has a different style of teaching and knows the benefit of asking questions to get a clear picture of what’s expected of her.
“It’s a good experience for me as a teacher to see things from the other side,” Nissley says. “It gives me a little more compassion for my students. If they don’t understand an assignment, I can take a step back and know what that feels like.”
Nissley’s path at Bridgewater was clear from the beginning. Growing up on a dairy farm in nearby Mount Crawford, she knew biology would be a good fit as a major. She was always teaching her younger brother things and loved working with kids, and she quickly changed her track from pre-med to the teacher education program.
“Teaching is just part of who I am. I was created to be a teacher,” she says.
One of her biology professors, Dr. Sarah Swank, influenced Nissley’s own approach to teaching. Swank had an expectation of excellence for her students, while valuing critical thinking skills and application of information. Nissley learned firsthand the value of a liberal arts education, especially when applied to a STEAM subject. As a science teacher for 30 years, Nissley values a student-centered classroom focused on hands-on learning to develop students’ critical thinking skills.
“The ideas that are at the core of STEM/STEAM are really essential life skills,” she says. “They encourage creativity, problem solving and collaboration, and those things are what make people successful. A really valuable employee is able to solve problems and come up with creative solutions.”
The decision to get her master’s—especially in an arts-centered field—was serendipitous. Nissley was attending her daughter, Leisha’s, graduation from BC in May 2023 and heard the announcement of MDMS graduates. Nissley, who has owned her own photography business, Beyond a Dream, for 10 years, had been researching online master’s programs as a way to expand her digital media skills. The MDMS program at BC, which allowed for both online study and in-person access to professors if needed, was the perfect fit. She’s interested in paying forward what she learns by partnering with small business owners and nonprofits on employing effective digital media strategies.
“Being a Bridgewater alumna, it made this program an appealing option for me,” Nissley says, “It’s a fun connection that I went to BC, and now I’m back again.”
Nissley’s continual love of learning and enjoyment of seeing things from a different lens will no doubt benefit her own students. In three decades of teaching, she has seen a paradigm shift from rote memorization of facts to applying knowledge to come up with creative solutions.
“I love science: the inquiry and interesting developments, practical applications, the exploration,” Nissley says. “I like watching the lightbulbs come on for students when they figure things out.”
– Jessica Luck