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Finding the true meaning of motherhood

Kam King
September 30, 2013

Sarah Lang and Nicole Overstreet are just two of many nontraditional students who have found their calling as mothers and members of the EHE family.

Being an expert isn’t always easy

Alexis Jane felt sad that her best friend Lulu would be moving to the toddler classroom, leaving her behind in infant care, so she decided to show Lulu just how much she cared.

During dinner that night, she worked with her mother, Sarah Lang, to write the perfect letter to place in her friend’s cubby the next day.

With her teacher’s help, the 19-month-old girl delivered her note, “Hi, Lulu. Hug,” written in fluorescent pink crayon. She gave her closest pal a huge hug right before Lulu said goodbye and journeyed on to the “big kids” class. Alexis Jane was sure she had helped her friend feel better.

Sarah Lang recalled her daughter’s accomplishment with pride. “When my children show that they really thought about someone else’s feelings, that’s the most exciting feeling as a mother.” Lang’s experiences as a mother to four-and-a-half-year-old Zachery and little Alexis Jane have helped bring her studies to life.

The human development and family science PhD candidate has many professional experiences to bring to her research, as well. Five years of teaching at the A. Sophie Rogers Laboratory for Child and Family Studies, now located at the Schoenbaum Family Center at Weinland Park, helped inspire Lang’s dissertation research.

“More and more families are utilizing some kind of care, so we need to learn how to support that as a state,” Lang said. “Whether they go to family-based childcare or a commercial center, how do we help provide the training and support to create high-quality infant experiences?”

Parents and teachers: Partners in co-caring

Lang’s research is finding the answers to those questions by exploring the importance of co-caring, a term she coined to explain the relationship between parents and the teachers of their children.

Lang will focus on families receiving funding to help subsidize or completely cover their childcare services. She is advised by Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, associate professor of human development and family science and psychology.

“Previous research indicates that families from lower socioeconomic settings sometimes feel a lack of respect or support from teachers, and that teachers sometimes feel frustration with families who are not very involved,” Lang said. She hopes to give both teachers and parents practical information on how to make their relationship work.

“Now that I’m a parent, I see co-caring through a whole different set of eyes,” Lang said. “I have a very hands-on experience with my children’s teachers. I like dropping into the classroom to see how Zachery and Alexis Jane are interacting with their teachers and peers.”

Being a mother and an expert in the field isn’t always easy for Lang, though. “I overanalyze all of the time!” she said. “You have this abundance of knowledge to help you make good decisions, but because you know so much, you critique your own parenting much more.”  Lang is reminded by her husband Mark not to take herself too seriously. “He’s not only supportive, he’s very involved in our parenting decisions,” she said.

The busy mom also serves as an Ohio State graduate teaching assistant, an adjunct faculty at Columbus State Community College, a guest lecturer, and the graduate student representative on the Graduate Studies Committee for Human Development and Family Science.

Lang also teaches undergraduates how to become better future educators. Her exceptional teaching earned her the 2013 Graduate Associate Teaching Award, given by the Graduate School at Ohio State. It is the university’s highest recognition for GTAs.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities also recognized Lang for her exemplary promise as a future leader of higher education by awarding her the prestigious 2013 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award.  Only a handful of graduate students nationally receive it each year.

From corporate America to Bangkok

Nicole Overstreet is a nontraditional hospitality management student who got her start in corporate America. The then senior executive assistant worked at fast-paced Merrill Lynch in New Jersey. Surprisingly, she was more nervous to start her studies at Ohio State than to supervise business meetings and travel arrangements for the financial management and advisory company.

“I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in with my classmates because I wasn’t the same age,” she said. Her enthusiasm overcame her anxiety, though. “I was excited to learn a lot from my peers but also to share my own story with them.”

Overstreet’s three-year-old daughter, Berlin, plays a huge part in her story. “I thought I knew what love was, but it wasn’t until my daughter was born that I realized the true meaning,” she said. “I’m most proud when I see her reading or doing other educational activities that resemble my pursuit of higher education.”

The undergraduate student had the chance of a lifetime to show her daughter the perks of a higher education when she spent 12 days in Thailand for the Hospitality and Retail Industries: Inspiration from Thailand study abroad program in May. “My daughter was so excited to see all of my photos and souvenirs that I brought back from the trip,” Overstreet said. “I am so blessed to have received the 2013 Big Dish Scholarship to attend hospitality management’s first study abroad opportunity.”

The study abroad course was taught and led by Margaret Binkley, former assistant professor of hospitality management, and Leslie Stoel, professor of fashion and retail studies. The group of undergraduates also received instruction from faculty at Mahidol University in Bangkok. The class focused on preparing for international business travel, tying in perfectly with Overstreet’s plans to build her own event planning business after graduation.

While in Thailand, Overstreet also had fun by volunteering at the Mae Tang Elephant Park and sightseeing at cultural marvels such as the Grand Palace, Temple of Emerald Buddha, Wat Po and the famously colorful Flower Market in Bangkok. “I loved learning more about the cultural and business environments of Thailand,” she said.

“This trip has really shown my daughter that our world is so much larger than the United States and that by getting her education, she can also impact the entire planet.”

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