Alumni Profile

Nicole (Rust ’11, MSE ’13) O’Connor

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Alumni Profile

Nicole (Rust ’11, MSE ’13) O’Connor

Nicole O’Connor’s Franciscan University experience can be summarized in one word—trust.

Autumn 2021 | Jacqueline Cozma

In This Article

Class of 2011 / 2013

Nicole (Rust ’11, MSE ’13) O’Connor’s Franciscan University experience can be summarized in one word—trust. When her experience at college in her home state of California proved disappointing, she transferred with her then-boyfriend Ian O’Connor ’11 and his brother Kyle O’Connor ’10 to Franciscan University in what she describes as a “Hail Mary” play for their faith.

Once there, she says she met many professors, especially Dr. MaryAnn Sunyoger ’70, her thesis advisor, who were dedicated to their roles as educators and really ignited a passion within her regarding education.

“Franciscan was incredibly instrumental in framing what I was looking for in a job and how I would go about looking for a job.”

After graduating, moving back to California, and marrying Ian, Nicole says she felt torn between staying at home with their daughter and going back to work. The solution came in the form of an advertisement in Franciscan Way magazine announcing the master’s in K-12 online education.

“The program was the perfect way to stay home with the baby while continuing to discern my vocation as an educator. Online learning wasn’t a big focus in education at that time, but the program gave me hope that I would be able to lend my talents inside and outside of our home.”

After spending some time as a teacher at an in-person Catholic classical school, she began teaching English grammar and composition for grades 6-11 for Kolbe Academy Online, an online Catholic classical school that serves homeschool families. Eventually, working with her daughters at home drew her to younger students. When her supervisor at Kolbe Academy asked her to become the online director for K-5 at Kolbe Academy, “it felt like a fiat moment,” she recalls.

Kolbe Academy began preparing to launch a fully online K-5 experience, bringing on new teachers, reformatting the curriculum, and helping families make the leap to online education. With the pandemic, their plans accelerated significantly in spring 2020.

“It was a scaled-up, trial-by-fire, amazing experience,” Nicole explains. Looking back, she says there’s not much she would change.

“I always sought to put my trust in the Lord, so I can’t pinpoint anything I would do differently.”

Nicole and Ian O’Connor live in Orange County with their three daughters, aged 5, 7, and 10.


Jacqueline Cozma ’11 writes from Reading, Pennsylvania.

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