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NCU Student Profile: Education Is a Marathon Not a Sprint


Sheila Thomas (Ed.D., Higher Education Leadership, candidate) has nearly 30 years of experience in higher education, working at both public and private institutions. During her career, she has been able to combine her passion for education with her interest in professional development.

NCU student Sheila Thomas is the State University Dean of Extended Education at the California State University Chancellor's Office.

NCU student Sheila Thomas is the State University Dean of Extended Education at the California State University Chancellor’s Office.

“My area of expertise is continuing education,” explains Thomas. “My current position [is] State University Dean of Extended Education at the California State University Chancellor’s Office.  I am responsible for facilitating workforce development, strategic communication, policy review [plus] advocating for extended and continuing education.”

While many academic administrators get their start in the classroom, and move through faculty ranks to dean and provost, Thomas, who earned her B.A. in Communications from Azusa Pacific University and her M.A. in Humanities from Cal State Dominguez Hills, never had a real interest in teaching.

“I think teaching and administration are both rewarding careers,” admits Thomas. “But for me, I like helping people. I think of my office as ‘information central’ and my staff and I do our best to answer questions and provide information.”

Educational conversations today often center on how higher education institutions are preparing students for the workforce, and Thomas’ office is at the forefront of facilitating solutions.

“I enjoy interacting with the workforce development community in the field and building… valuable partnerships,” she says.

“I have [also] made professional development for emerging leaders a priority,” adds Thomas, who serves on state and national boards and is active in professional associations, including the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, Association of Continuing Higher Education, American Association for Adult and Continuing Education, and the National Professional Science Masters Association.

When it came to her own professional development and earning that coveted doctorate, Thomas relied on her experience working for an array of higher education institutions, including her current role at the largest university system in the country. Her calculated approach to finding the right school included the necessary combination of quality, flexibility and affordability.

“Having worked in higher education my entire career, I know the importance of regional accreditation,” states Thomas. “I also needed a program that was online and had flexible scheduling, and that I could pay for every month without needing student loans.”

Thomas began her journey at NCU in 2007 when she enrolled part-time. While her progress has been slow and steady, she’s thrilled to have made it to the dissertation stage.

“My dissertation is entitled Defining a Successful Leadership Pathway: Women in the Academy and the Role of Institutional Support,” shares Thomas. “I’m really enjoying my research and I love the fact that my program fits well with my current position and career goals. I can use the information and my research immediately in my job.”

So what would be her advice to students when it comes to staying engaged and motivated in a program (or extensive project like a dissertation) over a long period of time?

“I learned early on that pursing a doctorate is a marathon not a sprint. There are stops and starts along the way, and sometimes you feel you are taking steps backward. I have tried to keep my goal firmly in mind and visualize that diploma hanging over my desk,” explains Thomas. “And…have a plan for your education. If you are in a doctoral program, choose a dissertation topic that you are passionate about and can sustain your interest [in],” she adds.

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

What the Olympics Can Teach Us about Teamwork

Olympic Flag

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons –

As we prepare for the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, it’s only natural to stop and think about what we can take away from tonight as well as the next two weeks of competition.

Each athlete in the Olympic Games is competing for a chance to take home a coveted Olympic medal, but tonight’s Opening Ceremony symbolizes something else entirely. Tonight is about unity, pride and teamwork.

These Olympic athletes have an honor that few us (minus our dedicated men and women in the military) ever experience: the opportunity to represent their country. While many of us will probably never represent our country on the international stage, we can’t forget that we are all part of a larger whole. Whether in business as colleagues or fellow students at a university, or even simply as Americans or the human race as a whole, we are all members of a larger team. In order for the team to be successful, we all have to work together.

As Dr. Thomas Pucci, core faculty for Northcentral University’s School of Education puts it, “On a truly successful team, individual goals become secondary to the goals of the organization.”

So as you watch tonight’s Opening Ceremony, take a minute to remember what the Olympics teaches us about teamwork. Each country may be vying for the top spot in the medal counts, but in the end, the Olympics is a win for all of us. It’s the whole team, nations from every corner of the globe coming together in one spot in peace, in unity, and yet still full of pride for their home country. What could be better?

NCU Alumni Profile: Failure is Not a Career Option


V Morrison 1

Commander Valerie Morrison completed her D.B.A. in 2013.

Commander Valerie Morrison (D.B.A., 2013) joined the Navy Nurse Corps as an Officer Candidate in the Bachelor Degree Completion Program with a long range goal: obtaining her master’s degree.

“My father dropped out of school to enlist in the Army during WWII and my mom only had some technical schooling as a secretary after high school,” shares Morrison, “but both of my parents were adamant that the five of us kids would go to college.”

In 1991, Morrison completed her bachelor’s degree and was commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy Nurse Corps.  Eleven years later, she achieved her original goal, earning her Master of Science in Management from the Naval Postgraduate School.

While at school, Morrison had been inspired by a retired naval officer with a D.B.A. “He always brought examples from his consulting work with the City of Salinas to his policy course,” she recalls. “He was the example of how I wanted to advance my education.”

A year later, she attended an educational fair while working at Naval Hospital Jacksonville in Jacksonville, Fla., and knew NCU’s online format would provide the flexibility she needed to obtain her doctorate. She enrolled in the D.B.A. in Management program and started her coursework in 2003. By 2009, she was working on her dissertation proposal when she was deployed to Kuwait.

Morrison was ready for it, but just four months later, her deployment ended abruptly and she returned to the States, her head swirling.

“It is difficult to explain how much mental preparation you make in order to deploy (leaving a then 2-year-old and 5-year-old with your husband and mother-in-law).  Reintegration is a very real challenge for military families…including mine,” she admits.

In fact, it seemed that her NCU coursework was the one constant in her life so she jumped back into it. Instead of progressing like she planned, however, she earned her first “U” grade, which led to an elongated leave of absence from NCU (“to get my head together”).

Morrison returned to NCU in 2010, around the same time she was selected for a great career opportunity as the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Navy Nurse Corps—a two-star Admiral.

“Working for the top nurse in the Navy is an awesome thing, but it also required many hours and lots of travel,” she says. “However, failure was not an option.”

That commitment was tested again, when in late 2011, Morrison was diagnosed with a cancerous sinus tumor.  While the surgery was a great success, precautionary radiation treatments packed a punch she wasn’t expecting.

“Being a nurse, I thought I would end the radiation treatments, be tired for about two weeks, and go about my happy way, but I was tired! Luckily, I was able to take an extended time off from work and put 100 percent effort into my dissertation manuscript.”

Morrison’s determination paid off. She successfully defended her dissertation – Examining the Relationship between Workplace Stress and Intent to Leave of Navy Nurses – on March 27, 2013.

When the Director of the Navy Nurse Corps retired in August, Morrison continued to move forward, now serving as the Career Planner for new Director of the Navy Nurse Corps.

“One of the great things about my job is that I get to work on behalf of the roughly 6,000 active, Reserve, and federal civilian nurses who work for Navy Medicine worldwide,” shares Morrison. “Every month, I travel up to Newport, RI, to Officer Development School, where I welcome the new ensigns. It’s so motivating to be around the future leaders of the Navy Nurse Corps.”

Morrison is also working to advance her professional standing through her research. “My abstract was accepted for a poster presentation at the Virginia Nurses Association Education Day in September.  I also presented at a Joint Clinical Nurse Specialist Symposium in July, and have been asked to present to a Ph.D. Theories course at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in October,” she reveals.

Additionally, Morrison is studying toward certification as a Nurse Executive (for higher level nursing professionals) and was selected to serve on the American Nurses Association Advisory Board for Nurse Fatigue (promoting health and safety for patients and nurses).

Despite everything on her plate, Morrison also volunteers as the Delegating Nurse as her kids’ school, and enjoys being a full-time mom and spending time with her family.

So how does she do it all? “I have several calendars—my Outlook calendar, a desk calendar, a wall calendar on the fridge, a weekly calendar on the pantry door.  I plan the year, the month, and the day,” she laughs. “If I can do it; anyone can do it.”

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

4 Ways to Collaborate in the Virtual Classroom

Since its beginning, online education has been criticized for its struggle to facilitate quality collaboration in the virtual classroom. In an effort to combat its critics, pioneers in the industry have tried almost anything – from required learning teams, to the adoption of discussion thread posts and conference calls, and even overhauled learning management systems.

As history tells us, holding students accountable for participation in a collaborative environment has proven to be a difficult task in the online classroom, but thanks to a few recent social trends it’s becoming easier with each click of the mouse. Whether you’re an instructor searching for ways to help engage your virtual students or a student trying to make a group project assignment work, consider trying one of these options to create a more pleasant online collaboration experience!

Document Sharing

If you’ve worked in an online group setting, you know that one of the most difficult tasks you face is combining every document submitted in to one “master” document. Good news! You can get rid of that headache by choosing one of these easy document sharing methods.

Google Docs

Google Docs simplifies the task of updating a running master document by allowing your entire group to access and make changes to the same document. Just log in to your Google Drive, open the desired document, make your changes and save for the group to see. If your students or classmates are concerned about access, rest assured – it’s free when you sign up for a Google account!


If you’re looking for something a little more mobile-friendly, try Evernote. You can share documents, download the mobile app for on-the-go viewing, and even make lists of items still needed for project completion. Just share with your group members to ensure you’re all  on the same page. The basic account is free, but you can choose to pay for an upgrade that unleashes a whole list of sharing possibilities!

Face-to-Face Time

Google+ Hangouts

If you’re looking for a little face time with your document sharing, try hosting a Google+ Hangout!  Invite everyone in your group to a video conference call to discuss your changes to documents in Google Docs, talk through questions you have about topics in class, and work together to make your final product the best it can be. The best part is it’s free! If you’re interested, sign up for a Google account (also free) and you’re good to go!


Do you take your studies on the go? iMeet can help you stay connected with your classmates or students wherever you may be. You can connect with up to 15 people at once, share documents, take notes and chat with attendees all from your computer, smartphone or tablet. This one’s not free, but the features are well worth the cost!

Trends in K-12 Education: Online Continuing Teacher Education

With each passing year, standards for student achievement in K-12 classrooms across the country continue to rise. Most recently, the wide-spread adoption of Common Core State Standards has forced a new focus on student achievement and application of real world knowledge and skills. In an effort to help students exceed these expectations and succeed in the classroom, proactive educators must seek continuing education that can be immediately translated in to the classroom.

With this goal in mind, online degrees and certificate programs have quickly become the solution. “Choosing between a certificate program and degree program should really be tied to the student’s goals,” says Dr. Karen Ferguson, Assistant Dean for Northcentral University’s School of Education.

Dr. Karen Ferguson -  Assistant Dean, School of Education

Dr. Karen Ferguson – Assistant Dean, School of Education

“A degree program will provide students with both a breadth and a depth of information in their chosen area.  A certificate, on the other hand, tends to be very focused and specific.  Students should choose between the two based on their personal goals and professional requirements.”

In today’s competitive market for online education, fewer requirements, a completion date that is often as short as a few months, and a lower cost for total tuition have given certificate programs the edge – for now.

“Certificate options demonstrate to your school leadership that you are dedicated to continuous improvement and learning,” explains Dr. Ferguson.  “Often, certificates are a nice addition because students can learn focused content that may not have been offered at the time they earned their degree.”

For example, earning an education certificate in early childhood education, e-learning or education leadership would serve almost any educator well. While these specializations are common among online schools, NCU’s School of Education has taken specialized to a higher degree by becoming hyper-focused on the needs of teachers across the country attempting to adapt to the Common Core State Standards requirements.

“NCU offers certificates in a number of areas, all of which will support our students’ goals.  One of our recent additions is the Mathematics Excellence in the Common Core post-baccalaureate certificate.  This unique certification in education is designed specifically to help educators who are currently teaching mathematics to implement the Common Core State Standards,” says Dr. Ferguson.

Whether completing a degree program for advancement or a certificate program for added knowledge, online continuing teacher education is now the go-to solution for educators looking to prepare their students for success. For more information on all of NCU’s Title IV funded certificate and degree programs, visit

Now What? Life After Graduation


You have just received a passing grade on the last assignment of the last course of your degree program. You’ve been living for this day for months –years even. You finally have the time to reconnect with your family and friends and tell everyone you know that you’ve accomplished your goal. How do you feel?

Many of you probably assume you will relieved, excited, even euphoric. However, accomplishing a long-term goal can lead to a wide range of emotions.

“People often experience mixed feelings at the end of a rigorous process,” explains Darren Adamson (Ph.D.), associate professor for NCU’s School of Marriage and Family Sciences and director of curriculum development for the MFT programs. “These feelings can range from exhilaration to disappointment. Some individuals may feel guilty and anxious while others are proud of their accomplishment and feel satisfaction.”

According to Adamson, many factors can lead to these different emotions, including:

  • Accomplishment of a long-term goal or task
  • Meeting your own and others’ expectations
  • Overcoming the different challenges within your goal or task
  • Changes in your formerly predictable schedule
  • Failing to acknowledge an uncertain future
  • Questioning the reality of your accomplishment

If you find yourself feeling differently than you expected post–graduation, the first thing to remind yourself of is that it’s completely normal! While your feelings may be confusing, they are actually quite predictable. Take advantage of the wisdom learned by those who have gone before you and try some of these tips to help you manage your emotions.

  1. Let your feelings be what they are and do not worry about them—just feel them.
  2. Celebrate your accomplishment with family, friends and other graduates. If possible, attend your commencement.
  3. Accept praise from others—it may feel unreal at first, but many of them saw how hard you worked and know what you sacrificed for this achievement.
  4. Compare where you were when you started your program and where you are now. Accept and own the changes.
  5. Be deliberate in your planning for a career change or advancement. It won’t happen without you!
  6. Access all the support resources available to you in your efforts to use your degree to your career advantage.

Most of all, remember that you’re not alone.

Just because you graduated, that doesn’t mean your connection with your school has to end. Get involved in NCU’s alumni association and network with others who have similar career interests. You may find that staying connected is the best reality check for remembering and celebrating everything you’ve accomplished.

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

5 Tips from Academic Advisors on Achieving Academic Success

At Northcentral University, the role of our Academic Advisors is not just administrative. Our advisors strive to be supportive and encouraging of our students, advocating for their success.  NCU’s Academic Advisors direct students to academic resources and especially in the online environment, act as consistent point of contact to help students navigate the University’s policies, procedures and various departments.

After many years of being privy to how students learn best, what works, and what holds them back, our Academic Advisors now present the Top 5 Tips that successful students use to complete their programs successfully:

Time Management: Students often report their biggest struggle is making time for school work. Balancing academic obligations with family, work and professional obligations can be difficult. If adequate time is not set aside for assignment completion, students can fall behind quickly. Managing time effectively is one way to show your commitment to the program and honor your professional goals.

Utilization of Resources: Many of our most successful students understand the importance of seeking a variety of diverse perspectives. Taking advantage of tutoring, peer and instructor feedback, and APA and library resources will ensure students are up-to-date on requirements, and ultimately make them more confident about their work. For doctoral students this is especially important because of the nature of the dissertation phase where there is much more back and forth between editing and revision.  The ability to incorporate feedback and synthesize information and insight from a wide variety of sources is something that successful students take the time to learn and do well.

Proactive Communication: Successful students communicate proactively and seek assistance as early as possible when experiencing difficulty with the academic process.  They do not wait very long for a response before reaching out in another way or seeking confirmation that an initial communication has been received. Academic Advisors and your instructors should be informed if extenuating circumstances are preventing you from submitting assignments in a timely manner. In this way, successful students work to resolve problems while they are manageable and before problems begin to snowball.

Professional Application:  Successful students often have a professional context in which to apply their learning that works to their advantage. Students who are passionate about their subject and who concentrate on networking and building a professional name for themselves while still in school will feel even more confident when approaching graduation and professional application.  At the same time, professional networking and experience in the real world application of a course of study facilitates a student’s ability to complete high quality coursework.  Successful students look early and often toward their ultimate professional goals and how the topics they research or the concepts they study will enhance their understanding and assist them in their professional life.

Confidence: Advocating for oneself can portray a student in a positive and confident way.  Our most successful students are able to communicate succinctly and considerately when defending their theories, coursework and desire to fully understand feedback or policy.  It is not uncommon for advisors to hear a student express concern that being assertive to self-advocate might lead to negative repercussions.  In fact, the result is just the opposite when critique and questioning of rationale is articulated respectfully and with a confidence to acknowledge any misunderstanding.

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