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We recently chatted with Melanie E. Shaw, Ph.D., Faculty Mentor at Northcentral University, to discuss education, teaching – and all points in between.

“Mel” is a military spouse, and she jokes that she has the second best job in the world – her husband is a jazz drummer in the Air force! The couple has a daughter currently studying at Georgia State University in Atlanta, as well as younger daughter who is a freshman in High School in Illinois.

“My kids have seen me as a lifelong learner, and I’m proud to say that they’re both amazing academics in their own right,” beams Shaw.

Dr. Melanie Shaw

Dr. Melanie Shaw

Shaw has traveled a circuitous route to her present role at Northcentral, spending 13 years attaining her Bachelor’s Degree, while savoring life with a sense of wanderlust in the military; transforming herself from performance artist, to nursing school student, to healthcare administrator, and eventually enrolling at Northcentral while living in Germany to earn her Ph.D. in Education.

Online education was truly a panacea for me,” notes Shaw. At the time, her father, who held a Ph.D. from Princeton, one of the most renowned universities in the world, even noted: “Online education is the wave of the future, in fact, I just had a friend who graduated while studying online at Yale!”

Shaw completed her Ph.D. in 2006 – the second person to complete the Doctoral program in Education at NCU – and the rest is history. Mel believes that she became a faculty mentor that very evening: Her chair was in Utah, her dissertation committee was in Florida and she was in Germany – and her life has NEVER been the same.

Today, Shaw interacts daily with the staff, faculty and students of NCU and she firmly believes that Northcentral is one of the premier online institutions in the world.


Congratulations on your latest honor! (


Blush, blush – Ahhhhh, shucks!


What do you see as some current and upcoming trends in online education?


I think that we’re all life-long learners. We should all want to go to the next place intellectually, and the bright spot in this current economic downturn is that it forces us to reevaluate who we are and what we want to do. In crisis, we reflect on the trajectory of our life. It’s a chance to listen to that “little voice” inside to see if you’re really doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

The great thing about online education is that you DON’T have to stop what you’re currently doing. If you’re willing to dedicate time to advancing your education, you can continue to be a parent or a teacher or a bartender and get to the next place without leaving where you are currently. (Mel notes that her brother recently had to uproot his entire family in order to study at a bricks-and-mortar institution in Florida)

10 years ago, I think there was a stigma associated with online learning, but now, it’s an important modality. Going to school online is a great option – we are all pioneers in this amazing field (students, faculty, and staff) – and I am personally highly sought after. We’re making an impact on how education is delivered here at NCU.


What do you see as the critical needs and expectations of people studying to become a teacher?


The pedagogical and andragogical practices of teaching are really the same online – great educators translate across all mediums. You need a PASSION for knowledge – you need to fall in love with the subject you teach and discover the beauty and magic that lies within. You also need to be DISCIPLINED to educate students. Great teachers really create a vision of where you want to go. They create a path, which was probably already inside of you, of where you need to be in order to become successful. Finally, you need a PERSONALITY that wants to make people listen. Online engagement means being available and providing quick and substantive feedback to overcome that sense of isolation that online learners sometimes experience.


Would the world change dramatically if teachers were paid like rock stars???

(Laughs) My brother that I mentioned who is currently in Florida is studying organizational behavior and he notices that people complain more than they compliment! I really don’t think that external factors like money make for great accomplishments. It really has to be a sense of call that can’t be quieted. You need to follow an authentic path – no matter what the reward.

As a teacher, it’s really about the exchange of ideas or the “A-Ha” moment when a student calls you two years after graduating to thank you for changing their life!!! It’s when a student asks you a question you can’t answer – and you have to research and dig to stretch your own mind. It’s joy from within.


What are you most proud of as it relates to your work at NCU?

I think that it is being a part of NCU as it finds its own identity – we went through our growing pains – and now, we have a sense of our vision and commitment to excellence.


Okay, to paraphrase David Letterman, let’s end with your “Top 10 Signs that You May be an Exceptional Educator!”

10) Flexibility

9) Passion

8) Commitment

7) Intellect

6) Motivation

5) Inquiring Mind

4) Desire to further the knowledge in the field

3) Visionary

2) Understanding of the foundations of education

1) And the number one sign that you may be an EXCEPTIONAL EDUCATOR: You have the ability to do it differently than anyone has done it before!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Debbie Cassetta, M.Ed., M.Phil. #

    I had the pleasure of studying with Dr. Shaw at NCU. She’s an amazing educator and encourages the best in those with whom she works!

    May 6, 2013
  2. What an inspiring bio. It encourages all of us “mature” learners to continue on!

    October 3, 2013

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