MURFREESBORO, TN — For recent Middle Tennessee State University graduates Zaheerah Smith-Cooper and her daughter Aminah Smith, sharing interests and passions extended beyond the home to the classroom.  

The mother-daughter duo not only graduated together from MTSU’s College of Education this spring but did so with top marks — a 4.0 GPA for Zaheerah and 3.9 GPA for Aminah. 

“It was great graduating with my mom!” Smith said. “We were sitting close together during the ceremony, only one person between us, so we could still share encouraging words. It was nice to accomplish this with her, and, hopefully, we can do it again in the future.” 

Smith was the first to pursue an education degree because she loved reading and wanted to teach elementary school children. 

Smith-Cooper was excited by her daughter’s acceptance to MTSU and inspired to pursue education by her own mother’s work as a Bible instructor and the other academics and Bible educators in her life.  

“Their love for teaching, patience and lovingkindness influenced me to want to pursue teaching,” Smith-Cooper said.  

Both originally from New York City, the two completed the online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program directed by Ashlee Hover, assistant professor of education.  

Smith-Cooper is an office supervisor at Tennessee State University, and Smith is a social media associate for Lyft, neither the more traditional type of student in the program of a working K-12 classroom teacher. 

Smith said she was really grateful she had Hover’s classes in the program, and Smith-Cooper echoed her daughter’s sentiments, saying she always left Hover’s courses with knowledge and confidence.  

“Many of my peers were traditional academic teachers who had been teaching for many years,” Smith-Cooper said. “I wasn’t a traditional student or educator, and Dr. Hover helped me see that being ‘traditionally trained’ in education doesn’t always matter. We all have great ideas, and there are different ways to accomplish our goal: to teach the student. Completing a class with Dr. Hover leaves you excited and looking forward to what is next.” 

Joshua Tipton, educational leadership adjunct professor, also helped Smith-Cooper when she struggled first starting out in the program after being out of the world of school and classes for years.  

“After my first assignment, I wanted to give up,” she said. “Dr. Tipton took the time to personally meet with me via Zoom to explain assignments, go over my work and help me achieve the best result possible. The effort and support he puts into his students are commendable, and he gave me the desire not to give up but push forward.” 

Going forward, Smith would like to publish novels, open a bookstore and teach English to elementary or middle school students.  

Smith-Cooper would like to open a school in a low-income area where she could focus not only on the students but the entire family.  

“I feel it would offer the students a better chance to succeed when we provide their parents the opportunity and resources to help themselves,” she said.  

Hover said she works hard to develop and maintain a social presence in the online learning environment of her program. 

“The relationships with my students, current and alumni, are very important to me,” she said. “It is exciting to hear from Aminah and Zaheerah that the content and assignments that Dr. Terry Goodwin and I are designing are effectively reaching both our traditional and nontraditional students…. Aminah and Zaheerah both excelled in my courses, and each put a different spin on their reflections and course assignments due to the differences in their professions.” 

To learn more about the opportunities available for traditional and nontraditional students at the College of Education, visit the website https://www.mtsu.edu/education/.