One school, two degrees, and countless valuable experiences

Returning to Erikson to earn a second master’s degree, Kimberly Garner, M.S. ’15, says her experience as a student has been ‘life-altering.’

Kimberly Garner, M.S. ’15, was so enthusiastic about her experience as a student at Erikson Institute and the knowledge she gained that after earning one master’s degree, she came back for a second.

After spending most of her career holding numerous roles in the early childhood field, Garner enrolled in Erikson’s Master of Science in Child Development program at the recommendation of a colleague. When she graduated in 2015, Erikson had recently launched its Master of Social Work program, which appealed to Garner based on her career goals, and she immediately enrolled to pursue another degree.

“I really have a passion for clinical social work children who are dealing with challenges socially, emotionally, and behaviorally,” Garner says. “I want to help the parents understand what those behaviors mean and how they can navigate different daily activities to support their child.”

A career continuation

Since completing her undergraduate degree, Garner has been a teacher in preschool and Head Start classrooms and spent more than 15 years conducting developmental therapy and developmental evaluations and coordinating services in Illinois’ Early Intervention Program. As a student at Erikson, she says she has been able to gain knowledge about the early years and skills that her previous educational and professional experiences couldn’t provide. Specifically, she has acquired a deeper understanding about the importance of relationships and culture in a child’s development.

To her, early childhood is the most important stage in life. “I have always felt that early childhood is the absolute foundation of where it all starts —where your relationships start, where your learning journey starts, where that understanding of the world starts,” she says. “It builds as you get older, and at the end of that developmental trajectory, we hope for a fundamentally solid human being who is going to give back to society.”

In the early childhood field, professionals don’t just work with children, Garner says. They also work with parents and other caregivers while trying to grasp the ways that family customs, neighborhood dynamics, government systems, and many other factors impact a child’s growth, development, and understanding of the world. Erikson professors recognize that, which has transformed the way she works with children and families. Her professors have encouraged her to try to view each family in the context of their own culture.

“Erikson has a way of really tying the importance of culture to working with children and families,” she says. “As a student, you understand how development is impacted by culture and how families are impacted by communities. All of these systems interact with each other and play a part in development.”

From theory to practice

While in Erikson’s Child Development program, she had the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge she learned in her courses directly to her field work. She interned at the Family Institute at Northwestern University working with therapists and psychologists who provide diagnostic assessments and counseling to families.

But she also had an opportunity to reflect on her own experiences — professional and personal — in her courses, helping her consider factors in her own life that shape her and her work with children and families. That reflection, she says, has helped her become a more self-aware and effective professional.

“Attending Erikson has been a life-altering experience,” Garner says. “You learn more than what is in the academic journals and texts, because you really are learning from your interactions with your peers, the professors, and the experiences shared within those four walls of those classrooms.”

Most importantly, she says, Erikson reinforced her passion for her work.

“I love what I do,” she says. “It’s exciting when you can see the growth happening in a child, or you can see that ‘a-ha’ moment in a parent’s eye and they feel like something you shared made so much sense, made their life easier, and made their relationship with their child that much closer. That is so fulfilling to me. To see that we are helping families to accomplish goals and build stronger relationships is amazing.”