Whether it’s on the beach volleyball court or in her career, Katherine Cook, 35, has always had a passion for helping others succeed. When Katherine first started at the University of Florida right after high school, she wasn’t quite sure how to combine passion and education.
While studying at UF, Katherine landed a job with Bloomin’ Brands where she developed her skills to become a training coordinator. Katherine soon found her passion for helping others could translate by training and teaching people as an instructional designer. Since Katherine had come to love working at Bloomin’ Brands, she decided to put her education on hold and pursue her career full-time.
In Katherine’s career of more than seventeen years, there was still something missing from her stellar resume: the bachelor’s degree that she never finished. Katherine knew she wanted to start her own business in instructional design, but she also wanted to earn a degree to increase her knowledge.
The promise Katherine made to herself was that she would finish what she started when there was a degree that was meaningful to her. After over a decade away from her studies, Katherine came across UF Online’s program. Once Katherine learned that the College of Education’s Education Sciences major was offered via UF Online, she immediately knew that it was the right time to become a Gator again.
RETURNING TO SCHOOL AFTER STARTING A CAREER
In the early 2000s, when Katherine first started school as an on-campus student at UF, she found herself bouncing from major to major. Katherine finally landed on majoring in Family, Youth, and Community Sciences with a plan to become a family therapist. While this is a career where she could help people, Katherine ultimately decided not to pursue this path.
When Katherine landed a job as a Regional Director of Training for service and beverage at Bloomin’ Brands’ popular chain Bonefish Grill, she never expected to find her passion and start a lifelong journey. Katherine moved her way up the ladder, earning positions like National Training Manager and Training Content Developer in her thirteen years with the company. Eventually, she came across the opportunity to work for Hard Rock International, in Hollywood, Florida, as the Manager of Beverage Operations, which she couldn’t pass up.
At Hard Rock, Katherine was in charge of creating employee training materials around beer, wine, and spirits for all of Hard Rock Cafe’s international locations. Like many working in the hospitality industry in 2020, Katherine lost her job due to the prolonged shut down of Hard Rock Cafe’s locations worldwide. Katherine took this as an opportunity to do two things she has always wanted to do — finish her bachelor’s degree and start her own business.
“I looked at a few other online programs before I saw the Education Sciences program at UF,” Katherine said. “With UF, I was really interested because of the national rankings. I was ultra-invested because not only the pride of being a Gator, but knowing I was getting a quality education and a quality chance at it. Doing the research on UF’s ranking made me more comfortable going back.”
Katherine was particularly interested in the Education Technology specialization offered through the Education Sciences major. This specialization gives students extensive knowledge on research findings of learning theories, making Katherine more relevant with current educational multimedia and technology to produce more captivating and effective instructional materials.
With countless opportunities ahead, Katherine was eager to apply and become a Gator again. After getting accepted, she immediately knew this was the right decision to pick up her education again.
“A lot of people regret leaving school, but for me, it was the best thing I could have done because I got to do exactly what I love doing and found my way doing it. Now, I’m back in school and really focusing on becoming better at it. The passion is already there,” Katherine added.
FINDING SUPPORT THROUGH THE GATOR NATION
While Katherine resides in North Palm Beach, FL, over two hundred miles from Gainesville, she always felt connected to the Gator Nation right through her laptop. From day one, Katherine was filled with support and encouragement from her dedicated professors and her advisor, Aaron Ganas.
“Aaron, my academic advisor, has been instrumental in helping guide me and making me feel supported throughout this whole process,” Katherine stated. “When I was registering for classes, he would reach out and ask me how things were going. I could talk through things with him, and he helped me assign the speciality for education technology pretty early on, so I didn’t waste any time and was able to go directly into what I wanted to do.”
Katherine found similar support in her professors. Katherine’s multimedia education professor went the extra mile to leave comments on assignments and send more resources to her. Another one of Katherine’s professors was big on connecting by always reaching out and providing quality feedback to her. “I was able to graduate efficiently with all the support of my advisor and professors,” she said.
As an enthusiast for instructional design, Katherine thought that going through her UF Online courses, which are created by expert instructional designers at UF’s Center for Online Innovation & Production (COIP), was an awesome experience. “I geek out on course design and the way things are structured because I feel that I’m learning the most efficient way possible,” Katherine said.
In Katherine’s UF Online courses, she is able to pause and revisit lectures, interact with her classmates through discussion boards, and easily plan out her schedule through the calendar function. She admits that the discussion boards through her online courses make her feel more engaged. Whereas in a face-to-face course, she would likely not participate in class discussions or engage with classmates since she doesn’t have the time to reflect on lectures.
“I love the asynchronicity of UF Online and the fact that I can do my work at my own pace.” Katherine went on to say, “That has allowed me to work full-time and focus on my life.”
STARTING HER DREAM AS A GATOR GRAD
Now a UF graduate, Katherine is ready to accomplish new goals in life. This includes gaining more clientele in her instructional design business called GUIDE (Global Unlimited Instructional Design & Education) and earning her Master of Education degree in Education Technology through UF. In her free time, Katherine also plays and coaches a beach volleyball team where she helps train individuals on technique and teamwork. In addition, Katherine is also a Master Gardener Volunteer through UF IFAS Extension office in Palm Beach County. Her and a team of volunteers help educate and provide research-based information to the community regarding planning and maintaining suburban, rural, and urban landscapes focusing on environmental care.
Katherine’s advice to students interested in the Education Sciences major via UF Online is to take advantage of the technology and make the most of it. “Leverage the fact you can go back and rewatch items, engage in the discussion boards,” Katherine mentioned. “I feel as though I got a better education than I would have in-person since you have a chance to reflect, try out different methods, and get responses versus just sitting in an hour-long class.”
We congratulate Katherine on her accomplishments and finishing what she started. Katherine’s story illuminates the determination and grit our Gators exhibit to achieve their goals. In a time of hardship where Katherine lost her job, she built the momentum to finish her degree and start a business. Gators always prevail, and we wish Katherine nothing but success. Go Gators!
EARN A UF DEGREE IN EDUCATION SCIENCES
As the only degree of its kind in the state of Florida, the Education Sciences major via UF Online teaches students a diverse facet of skills within the education field. This degree is not for students seeking teaching certifications. Taught by faculty at UF’s College of Education, the Education Sciences major prepares students for careers in fields like instructional design, curriculum development, technical writing, and more. This program offers five areas of specialization: education technology, disabilities in society, educational psychology and research, schools, society, and policy, and lastly, general studies. To learn more about the UF Online Education Sciences program, visit the degree page or attend an upcoming virtual information session.