Breaking Boundaries with Education as a First-Generation Graduate

May 18, 2021

Marissa Winmill

M.Ed. in Educational Leadership, Ed.D. in Leadership


“When we educate a woman, we educate a generation.” This famous African proverb has been my mantra. I am a descendant of women who couldn’t get the education they deserved because of the Philippines’ patriarchal system. My maternal grandmother passed away without learning how to read and write. My aunt went to high school at the age of 28 and my mother never graduated. Born into poverty in a far-flung barrio of the Philippines, I dreamt of breaking this cycle. After teaching for ten years while struggling financially and supporting my family, I took a leap of faith and moved to the United States in 2002.

Living alone in a new country, I faced many challenges as a Filipina educator in Texas. I had to learn the education system, recertify my teaching credentials and adapt to the new culture. After 12 years of big life milestones – moving to Washington, getting married, having three children and more recertification – I decided to take on the challenge of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). My dream of pursuing graduate studies had been pushed back, but now I was inspired to get serious about leadership.

American College of Education’s master’s degrees were perfect for my needs. The M.Ed. in Educational Leadership program allowed me to thrive despite my busy life: teaching full time, raising little kids alongside my equally busy husband and caring for my mother through her cancer diagnosis. Any of these things could have stopped me, but ACE’s structure and flexibility kept me on track to explore my professional purpose.

I discovered my education and positionality could influence change in Washington’s educational system. I saw that I could be a champion not only for my family and my students but for the world. Even though I found my voice, I sometimes still felt invisible and unheard. During a national conference in Chicago, my invisibility was amplified when I noticed I was one of the few delegates without a Ph.D. or Ed.D. attached to my name.

I was 19 when I promised myself that I would be the first in my family to get a doctoral degree, but lots of life had happened since then. Would I still be able to fulfill this promise?

In November 2018, I reconnected with ACE to start my doctorate. Of all the institutions I researched, ACE provided a culture where I could thrive. I could rely on its flexibility, affordability and student-centered approach. Even better, as an ACE alumna, I could take advantage of the Continuing Education Grant, which made my doctoral dream a reality.

In my almost 28 years of teaching, I’ve made it my mission to use my education to build inclusive communities both locally and globally. I’ve led and facilitated the Refugee Educator Academy, a pilot program that works to support educators teaching ELL and refugee students. My work and passion are driving my dissertation, which aims to explore the disparity of BIPOC women in K-12 leadership.

I am ever grateful to ACE for helping me break boundaries with my education. After my doctorate, I plan to start a scholarship foundation in the Philippines to help more women get the education they need to lead. I’m living proof of that African proverb: When one woman is empowered, change ripples outward around the globe.

See what American College of Education can do to advance your education and your career. Explore our online master’s degrees and our doctoral degrees.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Marissa Winmill
Marissa Winmill, M.Ed. in Educational Leadership, Ed.D. in Leadership

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