Three degrees from three Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) schools certainly can’t just be by chance, could it?
“The funny thing is,” she says, “I’m not even Catholic but people just assume I am.”
Growing up in Sunbury, PA and attending public schools, LeeAnn Ritchie initially decided on Bloomsburg University for her first year of college. Starting a little later than her classmates—and married with children—she saw a TV commercial announcing Marywood University’s new program for business majors. After visiting the campus in Scranton, PA, about two hours from her home, she decided to enroll. The format allowed her to care for her family as she also pursued her undergraduate degree working at home on assignments and traveling to campus on the weekends and during the summers for residencies.
“This was pre-online… this was before all of that,” Ritchie remembers. “It was completely distance learning!”
After earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Marywood in 1983, Ritchie worked towards a teaching certificate from Susquehanna University. However, she continued her connection to the IHM Sisters having landed her first teaching position as an English teacher at Lourdes Regional High School near her home. After several years there, Ritchie moved on to teach in the public school system for the Danville School District. It was there that she learned about a new cohort for Marygrove College’s Master’s in the Art of Teaching. After recruiting enough teachers to proceed with the cohort, Ritchie and her classmates enrolled in 1998.
Marygrove, an IHM college located in Detroit, is nearly 500 miles away—distance learning by its definition. Ritchie remembers snail-mailing her assignments to her teachers.
“It was really hard to find an accredited school that was doing that. Marygrove was one of the first ones,” she acknowledges. “People didn’t believe me when I told them.”
Being a pioneer-student for distance learning, Ritchie accepted an offer to work part-time as a distance-learning adjunct faculty member for the Education Department at Marygrove College. Spending 17 years there, Ritchie has witnessed the progression and expansion of distance learning – or what is now called online learning. In fact, that expertise landed her in her current position as an elementary administrator for one of the newest STEM cyber schools in Pennsylvania, REACH Cyber School, in Harrisburg.
Working for a cyber school ties everything back to an IHM education that was far from a classroom. Ritchie, who again was at the right place at the right time, enrolled in Immaculata’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program that was offered at Selingrove School District, where she was employed. Immaculata became lucky number three for Ritchie.
What has attracted Ritchie to IHM schools? “In all the schools that I have gone through, I never felt I was in it by myself,” she states clearly. She explains, “It’s a connection that I don’t always see in a public education.” With her positive experience at Marywood, she realized that Marygrove had the same caring environment. Enrolled at Immaculata for the past year, Ritchie still feels that same caring connection and the “we’ve got you” feeling that she has become accustomed to at the IHM schools. Plus, she admires the beauty of the buildings and the campuses of the IHM schools—Ritchie describes them as majestic and regal.
With a grateful tone, Ritchie explains that she did not have the time nor the desire to go to college the traditional way. “The IHM schools offered something different. They allowed me to find a way to earn my degrees because otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it.” Excelling academically, she maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her entire college career.
Once she completes her Ed.D. degree at Immaculata, Ritchie plans to devote her time to training other teachers interested in the cyber education field. Although she may not have realized it at the time, this is what she has prepared for her entire educational life.