Through the darkness, Carmen Adams found the light.
Shortly after her brother, Corey, returned home from his final Air Force tour of duty in the Middle East in early 2017, he went missing. His body was discovered 18 days later. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder before his untimely death at 45 years old.
The tragedy prompted Adams, a teacher for more than a decade, to enroll in the Master of Science in Education – Special Education online program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. She graduated in May 2019.
"Losing my brother was one of the main reasons why I went back to school to earn a degree in special education," she said. "I also wanted to get a better understanding of the students I was working with."
Earning a degree wasn't the only tribute Adams paid to her lone sibling. She and her family helped pass a state law concerning missing veterans with the help of Senator LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee). The Corey Adams Searchlight Act was signed into law in Wisconsin on March 28, 2018.
"The police wouldn't look for him for the first eight days he went missing," Adams said. "My family and I worked to get a law passed in my brother's honor where a Green Alert for missing veterans, kind of like an Amber Alert or a Silver Alert, is issued. The law has been introduced at the federal level, but they are waiting for it to move through and pass."
Adams was hired as a seventh- and eighth-grade special education teacher for Milwaukee Public Schools for the 2018-19 school year and loves her new role.
"Coming from a regular education background, I didn't know how to help the special education kids in my classroom because I didn't have that training," she said. "This program has helped me work with regular education kids and special education kids."
Finding a career path to pursue was never a problem for Adams. She knew what she wanted to become before she made it to middle school.
"My mom, Gwendolyn, went to school to be a teacher, but she never got to finish because she got married and started having children," she said. "I realized teaching was something that I wanted to do when I was in fourth grade. Since then, I always wanted to be a teacher."
Adams became the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree when she graduated with a bachelor's in business management from the University of Phoenix in 2009. She added an online master's degree in elementary education from Grand Canyon University four years later.
"I love online because while I am at work on my lunch break, I can do my homework or my readings," Adams said. "I don't have to drive anywhere, so I don't have to worry about using up my gas. I am able to do it on my own time. That's what I like about the online experience. The flexibility is enormous."
Adams chose UW-Superior's online MSE in Special Education program because she had always wanted to attend a UW system school.
"I saw an advertisement for the program on Facebook one day and clicked on it to get more information," she said. "I know that the University of Wisconsin schools have really good reputations when it comes to employers. I wanted to have that under my belt to help me out in the long run."
The personal attention from the UW-Superior faculty — especially because Adams was in an online program — proved she had made the right choice.
"I had the same professors over and over for my classes," she said. "I loved them, and they were a lot of help. They were good about getting back to me any time I had a question."
The final course in the program, SPED 775: Special Education Internship, was Adams' favorite because it tied everything she had learned together.
"We had to create an online portfolio of all of the work we had done and align it to the teaching standards in Wisconsin," she said. "It was good to see I had already done the work and show that I am able to get a job in special education."
After Adams completed her second master's degree program, she attended the commencement ceremony. With Corey on her mind and a full heart, she walked the graduation stage.
"I wasn't going to go, but my parents said, 'No, we're going,'" she said. "I drove with them and my daughter, Cam'Ra (26), six hours to Superior. Walking across that stage was emotional. It was like, 'I did it. I am setting trends for people in my family.' It was awesome.
"I have a cousin who graduates with her bachelor's degree in December. She always tells me that I am such an inspiration to her. I have had so many people come to me — even at graduation — and say, 'You are such an inspiration to everybody.'"
Adams and her family have already changed lives for the better by building on Corey's service to his country — the Green alert has been initiated six times in Wisconsin as of April 2019. She hopes to continue making a difference in the lives of her students, too.
"I would eventually like to become an administrator in one of the school districts," she said. "In special education, you are going to learn a lot. I recommend this program to special education teachers and regular teachers.
"The most important thing that I learned in the program was that you should never second guess yourself. You already have the knowledge and the tools you need. You have just got to put them to use."
And always continue searching for the light through the darkness.
Learn more about the UW-Superior online MSE in Special Education program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.